There will be no quarterback change this week for the Florida Gators, and by the tenor of coach Jim McElwain’s comments Monday, it doesn’t sound like that’s something he’s even willing to consider at this point.
He’s committed to redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and the status quo. Just listen to his responses when asked about the alternative.
- Is there a point when graduate transfer Malik Zaire gets a second chance at QB? “Yeah, there will be, if he keeps continuing to work and getting a little bit better,” McElwain said.
- Does Zaire just not fit what you’re trying to do? “He’ll continue to work the way he’s been and get his opportunities when and if that comes up,” McElwain said.
- Are you getting what you expected out of Zaire or have there been more hurdles than anticipated? “He continues to work, and that’s a good thing,” McElwain said.
Coach-speak is often ambiguous and unclear, but in this case McElwain was perfectly clear that he has no intention of making a QB change. He’s content to continue riding the rookie roller-coaster with Franks, who ranks last among SEC starting QBs in yards per game (133.3) and who averaged 121.5 passing yards in Florida’s last two narrow losses with 1 touchdown on a shovel pass and 2 interceptions.
To Franks’ credit, he did also have a very nice 79-yard scramble that set up a big touchdown in the loss to Texas A&M.
“He continues to get a little bit better. He’s got, obviously, a lot of ability. He’s got to continue to roll forward,” McElwain said.
Six games in, Franks has passed for 800 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
The Gators had a bye last week and now have all of this week to get him ready to play against unbeaten No. 3 Georgia, which is the toughest challenge Franks and this team have faced yet.
As for how he hopes that extra time will benefit his young quarterback, McElwain went back to the basics.
“You know, I think the big thing is just don’t get locked in, don’t pre-set or pre-determine a little bit. Really, just take your one cue and move from there and throw it to those guys that are open,” he said.
The problem is that’s been the hope every week this season, and it’s yet to materialize.
Franks has looked like the same quarterback week in and week out, a guy with real down-the-road potential who simply isn’t ready yet. He’s a guy with a legitimate big arm and good touch when he’s able to find an open receiver downfield and make a pass, but also a guy who too often fails to notice those open receivers, who looks uncomfortable at times and who lacks situational awareness and a lot of the intangible things a team needs from its quarterback.
Florida lost to LSU and Texas A&M by a combined 3 points despite a muted passing attack, which leads to a whole lot of what-ifs.
The defense is improving, the running game is legit, but the same ingredient remains missing.
Maybe Zaire, the fifth-year senior transfer from Notre Dame, has looked that bad in practice and McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier don’t feel he’s a viable option. Reporters don’t get to see practice, so only those inside the fence truly know.
But the question remains. What exactly are they getting from Franks that can’t be replaced? Is it not worth at least seeing if Zaire can make better reads, see more of the field, do something — anything — to spark the offense?
The passing game is essentially limited to screens and short over-the-middle stuff right now. It’s hard to imagine the Gators pulling off the upset of Georgia, a team that ranks fourth nationally against the run (allowing 82.1 yards per game on the ground), without doing more through the air than they’ve shown capable of to this point.
McElwain remains hopeful that Franks will get over the hump, though.
Maybe the bye week will make a difference. Maybe he will play his best game Saturday. Maybe McElwain is seeing legitimate improvement in practice that nobody else is seeing on game days.
“I thought that he’s handled some situations pretty decent and he’s starting to figure out that, you know, get it called and let’s go,” he said.
Either way, McElwain has made his call. Franks is Florida’s quarterback, and the Gators’ chances moving forward rest on the hope that what he didn’t show in the first six games, he’ll suddenly be able to in the seventh or the eighth, and so on.
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