COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Florida Gators were dealt yet another blow Saturday when starting quarterback Malik Zaire left the game with an injury.
Zaire rushed for 23 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. The graduate transfer was tackled and came down hard on his knee. Zaire was slow to get up, slow enough that one of Florida’s trainers ran out onto the field. Zaire tried to wave him off but went down to the ground and a team of trainers started looking at his left knee.
Zaire had to sit out a play but talked Florida’s training staff and doctors into letting him go back out on the field.
The lefty came in after a sitting out just one play. He took the snap rolled to his left but a few steps in crumbled into a heap and lay motionless for a few seconds. Zaire was able to walk off the field and immediately went into Florida’s injury tent, emerging with a brace on his left ankle.
Feleipe Franks would finish out the first half but Zaire didn’t want to remain a spectator.
“He wanted to go back in,” interim head coach Randy Shannon said. “He came out at halftime and I walked up to him and said, ‘I can’t do it to you. We’re OK here, we’ll be alright with Feleipe. Even though you’re the starter, we can’t do this do you. He just started crying. I cannot put anybody in that situation.”
Since Tim Tebow’s last snap the Gators have run through 11 different starting quarterbacks. Florida has played 99 games since Tebow’s finale. That’s means Florida is averaging a new starter every nine games.
The injury left Florida with just one healthy scholarship quarterback in Columbia. Freshman Jake Allen (back) and redshirt freshman Kyle Trask (foot) did not make the trip. Luke Del Rio was lost for the season in a win over Vanderbilt. That leaves Florida with just Franks. Saturday freshman walk on Nick Sproles would have been called into action in an emergency.
Who, you may be asking?
Sproles is a walk on from Winter Park, Florida. He completed 63% of his passes as a senior in high school, amassing 2,006 yards and 15 touchdowns.
If not Sproles, Shannon had another idea for quarterback.
“We’ve got some walk-ons on the deal and Dre Massey, believe it or not, played some quarterback in high school and he’s done some wildcat,” said Shannon. “We worked him at quarterback last week. It’s going to be (asking him) to drop back and throw the ball 34 times. We’ve got to use what he can do, if that happens to come to that situation.”
The problem with playing Massey, or freshman Kadarius Toney, at quarterback is that both are very limited as passers. Neither of them have studied the playbook for quarterbacks. They have packages and plays designed for them, but they don’t have a grasp of the playbook that a quarterback should have.
Franks is admittedly still green. He’s received a ton of praise and expectations in the offseason but was quickly turned on after a few slow starts to games.
“This is my first season as kinda like a starting college quarterback, so I mean, I knew it was gonna be a bunch of ups and downs. A bunch of people who love you, people who hate you, then they love you again,” he said. “So I knew that was gonna happen. It’s all part of the position, and that’s OK with me. I can take that.”
He’s still learning on the job. He has flashes of great potential, mixed in with head scratching decisions.
Regardless, Franks will be the guy going forward depending on the extent of Zaire’s knee injury. Florida is in a tough spot at the position, but there are only two games to go.