The jeers rang out as Florida once again settled for a field goal against a seemingly inferior opponent. The starting quarterback? A paltry 0-for-6 performance to start the game, with an interception to boot. For many, 14 games of Feleipe Franks was enough.
But in the eyes of his head coach, Franks was improving, regardless of the passer rating or statistics.
Franks’ performance in the first half paled in comparison to how he finished the game. Before being replaced under center by Kyle Trask in the waning minutes, Franks had completed eight of his last nine passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, as the Gators completed a 38-point victory.
After previously implying Franks could play himself out of a starting role, Mullen said after the game that Franks’ leash is longer than he let on, and that his willingness to learn and improve is a better gauge of improvement than missed reads and turnovers.
Considering a multitude of reasons could explain a turnover or blown play, Mullen’s evaluation of Franks will be defined by his gradual improvement in controllable aspects, such as his attitude and demeanor on the field. Mullen, who reiterated after the game that he wouldn’t yank Franks unless he showed a hesitance to take advice and criticism, said Franks wouldn’t have arrived in Gainesville with ambitions of becoming a successful Florida quarterback if he wasn’t expecting a considerable amount of pressure.
“I think you got to work harder in the quarterback room than it is out there in the public to thicken up his skin. I’m starting to see that a little bit. Ask any quarterback that has played for me, you’ve got some thick skin to go do that. We get after you. We expect certain things from you,” Mullen said. “If you don’t like public scrutiny, don’t be a quarterback at Florida. But you have the potential to get a lot of praise, too.”
For Franks, a redshirt sophomore quarterback who has already received more than his fair share of criticism, it’s important for his head coach to regard him as a true freshman, considering the staff and scheme changes the program has undergone since Mullen arrived in late November. While many won’t allow Franks the same room to grow as the team’s true freshmen, Mullen emphasized it’s important to put Franks’ development to date in perspective.
“I can’t tell you what offense they ran last year, you know what I mean? What he was being coached, what he was being taught, I don’t spend any time on that,” Mullen said. “It’s his third game in our system right there, OK? And the fact that I don’t see him make poor decisions, all right. I don’t see him make poor decisions, I see him maybe needing to make them a little quicker and I see him sometimes missing one.”
Regardless, Franks seemed to improve rather than regress over the night, but the next part for Florida and Mullen will be identifying a way to accelerate the improvement on the field.
“I don’t know (why he improved). I was probably yelling at him on the sidelines,” Mullen said. “No, I think it’s just him getting in the flow of the game. He’s got to do a better job of just getting in the flow of the game early and play that way, understand what goes on.”