Dan Mullen has been a football coach for 24 years. He’s been in charge of an offense, a quarterback or a head coach for 17 years but could only come up with two instances where he made the decision to make a quarterback change late in the season not due to injury.
The first came in his first season as the quarterback coach at Bowling Green when they went away from starter Andy Sahm in favor of a more athletic passer in Josh Harris. The other was in his first season at Mississippi State. Mullen inherited a senior in Tyson Lee but made a switch to sophomore Chris Relf in the middle of November.
“I almost skipped everybody and went to Tyler Russell at the midway point of the season,” Mullen said of that 2009 season. “It ended up being beneficial not to at that moment. The funny thing is, we got a turnover the next play, so we didn’t have time to get him warmed up and ready. By the time the next series was over, he had calmed himself down.”
Mullen once again finds himself with a quarterback decision to make in November in the first year at a new job. For the first time in the 2018 season Mullen made the decision to pull his starter, Feleipe Franks, during a game. Kyle Trask came into the game and completed 10-of-18 pass attempts for 126 yards and a touchdown over a quarter and a half of football. That’s more yards than Franks threw for against Colorado State, Georgia and in three quarters against Missouri. Granted the Tigers had a sizable lead and were playing off the ball, content to give Florida yards in exchange for time coming off the clock, but making the move opens Mullen up for questions the following week.
Despite how it looked on the field Saturday, Mullen says when the coaching staff graded the game there wasn’t a lot of separation between the two passers.
“Honestly, I think they graded within one point of each other,” he said. “So see how the week goes. I said it, I said we weren’t moving the ball well as a whole offense. That’s not just, there were a lot of problems beside the quarterback.”
Mullen has been steadfast in his defense of Franks since he’s been in Gainesville. He has routinely said that Franks is a young quarterback and when that no longer held weight, given the amount of games and snaps Franks has played, he said Franks is a young quarterback in the system and that it really takes a full year or more to be truly comfortable in the system. Monday he added another argument that also holds its own. Mullen believes Franks was forced to play too early and that has been detrimental to his overall development.
“It’s fair to say Feleipe probably played before he was ready to play,” Mullen said. “I think that’s hurt his development. I’ll be honest with you. When I got here in 2005, Chris Leak played, I think, before he was ready to play. And that hurt his development”
When pressed on that response Mullen said this: “I would guess last year, you know, and seeing him, right, he played last year, as a redshirt freshman. I haven’t played many redshirt freshman quarterbacks, as the starter. I don’t know that I have.”
Florida’s depth chart released before the game against South Carolina did not change. Franks is still listed as the starting quarterback but Mullen has said twice since losing to Missouri that they would look at this week of practice and make a decision for Saturday. Florida’s ones and twos get pretty equal reps in practice, about six less plays for the twos on a given day, per Mullen, so there won’t be a huge shakeup on the practice field.
The question does beg asking, though. What has Franks done so much better to keep Trask on the sidelines this season? Mullen says Trask throws a nice ball, has good size, much like Franks. He says Trask is more physical of a runner while Franks has a little stronger arm and more athleticism.
Ultimately Mullen has a decision to make and it’s not just a one game deal. Sticking with Franks would send a message that there’s just not a whole lot of belief in where Trask is. Mullen’s comments publically about playing freshman and redshirt freshman, couple with his statements that the staff plans on redshirting Emory Jones makes this a two man race this week to start against South Carolina. There just doesn’t seem to be a downside of trying something different.