Where improved confidence will help Feleipe Franks in 2019

One of the big takeaways from Florida’s appearance at SEC Media Days was how confident and collected Feleipe Franks appeared to be. His history of ups and downs is largely well documented, so I am not going to recap it for you here.

I say that confidence is important because it was possible to see last year when he had it and when he didn’t. There were four games in particular when he went through obvious stretches where his head wasn’t quite right before he got himself settled down.

The first instance is the most clear-cut and also the least injurious: Week 3 against Colorado State. Franks started 0-6 with a pick, albeit with one of the incompletions a drop from C’yontai Lewis in the end zone. The Gators went punt-FG-INT across the three drives that the bad streak spanned, with the score only being enabled by a defensive fumble recovery.

Afterward, he went 8-9 for 119 yards (13.2 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and no interceptions. That was more like it against the Rams’ atrocious defense. Florida cruised to a 48-10 victory.

The next bad streak to open a game was against LSU. In the first three drives of that contest, he went 1-6 for six yards. The three passes he threw that went more than ten yards upfield were not even close to completions. UF only gained a first down on the initial drive, and 11 total plays begat three punts.

From then on, Franks was 11-21 for 155 yards (7.4 per attempt) with one touchdown and one interception. Those aren’t eye-popping stats, but the completion and yardage rates are noticeably above what the Tigers allowed on the season. It’s true that the pick to Grant Delpit early in the second half was pretty bad; he should’ve tucked it and taken the sack instead of lobbing it in the end zone. Still, the Franks after the first three drives was a lot better, and the Gators pulled out a thrilling 27-19 win.

The next two bad streaks were far worse for the team’s chances than those first two ended up being.

On the first play against Georgia, Franks had Van Jefferson deep behind the defense but overthrew him. That seemed to rattle Franks, as he subsequently overcompensated.

On UF’s second drive, he threw a bubble screen to Freddie Swain low and later shortarmed a pass to Josh Hammond that got picked. Even if there wasn’t a defender in the area, it would’ve been a tough catch for Hammond because of how in front of him the ball was headed.

On the third drive, Trevon Grimes got behind his man on a long post. His speed appeared to surprise the safety, who took a bad angle for covering the pass. Franks couldn’t make those defenders pay, as he underthrew Grimes by at least five yards. The pass was broken up, but fortunately for the Gators they were able to score a touchdown later anyway.

On the team’s fourth drive, Franks underthrew an open Moral Stephens on about a ten yard pattern. The misfire came on third down, so it directly forced to a punt.

Florida had one more drive in the first half, but play selection didn’t provide a good check on how Franks was doing there. He didn’t show himself to have fixed his underthrowing issue until the first drive of the second half. Three plays in he hit Swain for a beautiful 36-yard touchdown strike, with most of those yards coming in the air.

Then, Franks’s worst streak came in the team’s worst loss and the game where he got benched. On the initial six drives against Missouri, he went 3-11 for 22 yards. All of his intermediate and long throws from that stretch are tough to go back and watch.

The team went down 21-3 during that span. Franks was able to engineer a touchdown drive in part by going 3-4 for 41 yards to close out the first half, but the Gators went three-and-out on the first two drives after halftime.

To be fair, not all of the initial second half struggles were on him. Franks hit a leaping Jefferson in the hands with a pass to start the first drive, but it went right through to fall incomplete. Mizzou’s defense also severely crowded the line to disrupt the runs and screens Mullen was calling. It’s easy to forget with the quarterbacking drama from that contest, but the Gators’ offensive line had a terrible day too.

I’m not willing to go so far as to say Florida would’ve won those two games had Franks played well throughout. A lot of other subpar things were happening in those contests, particularly against Missouri. However with the schedule strength ramping up this year, a slump like any of these could easily be the primary factor that costs Florida a game.

That’s why it’s so critical that Franks has more real, actual confidence. He projected something that appeared to be confidence at times in 2018, but it was fragile. If his confidence is strong this year, and he’s able to prevent inevitable bad throws or sequences from snowballing, it will be a huge asset to the offense.