During the telecast of last Saturday’s Florida-Tennessee football game, CBS threw an interesting graphic up on the screen. In the three years (2007-09) Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow was the Florida quarterback, the Gators went 35-6. In the seven years since Tebow’s departure, the Gators have gone 56-35.
Quipped analyst Gary Danielson: “Their offense has gone from the ‘Fun-and-Gun’ to the ‘Three-and-Done.’”
From John Brantley to Jeff Driskel to Tyler Murphy to Skyler Mornhinweg to Will Grier to Treon Harris to Luke Del Rio to Austin Appleby, the Gators have shuffled through numerous quarterbacks in a futile attempt to find a spark on offense.
As Florida rolls into Kroger Field to face unbeaten Kentucky for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday, however, the Gators think/hope they’ve finally found their man under center.
“He showed me he can throw it a long ways,” said Florida Coach Jim McElwain.
Actually, the redshirt freshman from Crawfordville, Fla., making his first road start Saturday, has shown a little more than that, beating out Del Rio, son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, and Malik Zaire, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame.
In fact, most assumed Zaire would be the Florida quarterback. Even when Franks started the season opener against Michigan, McElwain went to the hook quickly, replacing Franks (5-of-9 for 75 yards) with Zaire (9-of-17 for 106 yards) in the 33-17 loss.
Two weeks later, after Hurricane Irma canceled Florida’s game with Northern Colorado, Franks was back at the top of the depth chart for the Tennessee game. This time McElwain stuck with the 6-foot-5, 227-pounder who completed 18 of 28 passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
To be fair, Florida has been without a pair of potent weapons. Antonio Callaway, the team’s leading receiver in 2016, and running back Jordan Scarlett, the leading rusher last year, were both suspended from the first two games. Their status for Saturday has yet to be announced.
Still, before the fourth quarter against the Vols, all of Florida’s touchdowns had been scored by the defense. Duke Dawson returned an interception 48 yards for a score and C.J. Henderson followed suit with a 41-yard pick-six against Michigan. Henderson repeated his feat against Tennessee, taking a tipped ball 16 yards to the end zone for a 13-3 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Florida’s next possession, freshman running back Malik Davis appeared to be barreling to a 74-yard score only to be stripped 2 yards from the goal line — the fumble bounced out of the end zone for a touchback.
Then when Florida took over at its own 35 with 4:43 left, up 20-17, a Franks pass for tight end C’yontai Lewis bounced into the hands of Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden.
Just as it has carried the Gators in the post-Tebow years, Florida’s defense held the Vols to a tying 27-yard field goal. Four snaps later, when it appeared the Gators might play for overtime, Franks spotted Cleveland behind the Tennessee secondary on a deep post pattern and let it rip for six.
Ex-Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who also won a Heisman, tweeted: “Thank the Lord for @18franks. Cause if it were me in there, I couldn’t have thrown it that far. ;)”
“It was a really fun way to end a game,” said Franks, whose fun was just beginning.
When he arrived at his American History class Monday morning, the professor awarded the sudden star with the in-class trophy normally given to the student who asks the best question. After all, with Saturday’s throw, maybe Franks provided the answer to Florida’s toughest question: Who is the Gators’ quarterback?
It’s not the Heisman Trophy, but even Tebow would agree, it’s a start.
FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Kroger Field in Lexington
TV: SEC Network with Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel