The Florida Gators are at an impasse. Dan Mullen’s squad sits at 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the SEC. Florida will not represent the East in the SEC title game this year.
And that’s fine. This is the first year of a complete rebuild. Mullen has overachieved with a group of athletes that (mostly) were recruited to play an entirely different scheme, both offensively and defensively.
While Feleipe Franks has statistically had a fine season, there is much debate amongst The Gator Nation as to whether the program would be better served to start true freshman Emory Jones, who received his first significant touches of the season in Saturday’s loss to Georgia.
Michael Pfeffer and I have differing opinions on the subject and have elected to take part in a fact-based, but respectful debate.
We also want to hear from you! What do you think Dan Mullen should do at the quarterback position? Feel free to read each argument to help make your decision.
Michael Pfeffer: This season is far from over and all is not lost. While the goal of winning the East is unattainable after Saturday’s loss, the potential for a good bowl game and significant recruiting momentum is still very much within reach.
The next four games are very winnable. In fact, Florida will likely be favored to win in each of them. Benching Franks at this point in the season would be disruptive on several levels.
The offense has outperformed every Gators offensive unit since 2009 and that is with Franks at quarterback, not in spite of him. To get an idea of how much he has improved, let’s look at the numbers.
In 2017, Franks played in 11 games and started in 8 of them. So far, Franks has started all 8 games of the 2018 season as well.
CMP ATT PCT YDS Y/A AY/A TD INT RTG
125 229 54.6% 1,438 6.3 5.5 9 8 113.3
CMP ATT PCT YDS Y/A AY/A TD INT RTG
116 203 57.1% 1,511 7.4 7.7 16 6 139.8
When comparing these numbers, keep in mind that 2017 shows stats for all 11 games. It should also be noted that the level of competition has been greater in 2018 as well. The final strength of schedule rating for the 2017 season was 45th. This season, the Gators currently rank 21st in the same category.
If Mullen were to bench Franks, it would send a resounding message to the entire team. One that says, he is giving up on this season and in turn, this team.
It is likely that Franks returns next season as a redshirt junior. With a full year of this system under his belt and another fall camp under such a proven quarterback whisperer, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Franks takes another giant step forward. His teammates believe in him and he is believing in himself now as well.
Brian Fox: One drive told me more about Feleipe Franks and this offense than any other game or drive this season.
Florida was trailing by six points when Franks fumbled the ball on the one yard line to give Georgia three-plus chances to essentially put the game away. Instead, the Gators defense took over. The Bulldogs had six (seven if you include the first play which was negated by a penalty) chances to get into the endzone and were unable to do so. It was a huge stop that signaled a turn in the momentum.
The next drive started at the 25 after a touchback on the kickoff. After Scarlett failed to gain any yardage on first and ten, Franks ran for 20 yards and a first down. Then Dan Mullen made the move to Emory Jones. Jones rushed for 8 yards to move Florida into Georgia territory, then we saw Jones’ arm on a downfield throw to Van Jefferson that was just a tad underthrown, but forced a pass interference to move the Gators to the UGA 32. Mullen then went back to Franks who allowed the drive to stall for a field goal attempt.
The significance of this drive is two fold. Mullen allowed the freshman to enter at perhaps the most crucial point of the game and had the confidence to allow him to throw downfield, something that Franks hadn’t done since overthrowing Jefferson on the game’s opening play. It also put into my mind that a change was needed. The way the drive stalled, the way Florida didn’t attempt a single downfield pass after this, it became clear. It’s time to see Emory Jones in action.
So I decided to look into some stats. With Franks at the helm, Florida has been atrocious at the start of games. The Gators haven’t scored in the first quarter in four straight contests, and without the help of the defense, that streak may be longer (think: Tennessee).
Against Colorado State, who has the nation’s 78th ranked pass defense, Franks finished the opening quarter 0-6 with an interception. What gets overlooked because of the blowout final score, is just how bad Franks played in that game. Franks finished 8-15 for 119 yards. Clearly, Mullen had to adjust the game plan because of what he had standing behind center.
Furthermore, if Jones puts that ball on the money (against UGA, it was pretty close anyway), is there even a debate here? Mullen put Jones in that situation knowing the potential controversy it would create if completed. There would be no turning back at that point. The entire situation would be reminiscent of Alabama in the National Championship game. Jalen Hurts struggled, but Tua entered and immediately made an impact. Since then, it’s been all Tua at Alabama (except in the fourth quarter).
Mullen has exceeded everyone’s expectations already this season and no matter how this season finishes, no one will call this year a disappointment. Florida absolutely can make a major bowl game this year, but what harm is it to (potentially) take a small step back this season to ensure a large step forward next year?
Mullen’s choice to use Jones tells me that he understands Jones is the future of the program and that Franks is not. I believe that starting Jones would allow Franks the opportunity to transfer (if he wanted to) and give Mullen the option of adding a second QB in the 2019 class that would fit his system better than Franks.
MP: If you’re going to use stats to tell your story, then tell the entire story. Many great teams and indeed, great quarterbacks benefit from short field situations created by their defense. That doesn’t discredit the quarterback when he leads the offense to capitalize on the situation.
Since we’re talking about scoring, let’s look at the entire picture. The Gators have scored 258 points this year. 223 of those have been scored while Franks was on the field. The team has scored exactly 0 points while Emory Jones has been in the game.
With the new redshirt rule, it is already possible for him to get live game experience without starting and without burning an entire year of eligibility for four games. He has played in two so far and has eligibility to play in two more without impacting his redshirt.
The entire argument for Emory Jones is based on a sample size of 9 plays. Jones has 7 carries and 2 pass attempts. He is 0-2 passing and has amassed a whopping 8 yards on his 7 carries.
Everybody loves the backup quarterback when the team loses. Changing signal callers at this point in the season would set the team all the way back to week one. Chemistry, knowledge, experience, all of that is gone when you bring in the third string QB to prepare him for a future that isn’t even guaranteed.
The wise thing to do would be to use him in package situations in two of the next five games (bowl included) and open the competition for next year after this season concludes. Don’t lose out on the momentum this team still has or on the recruiting benefits it will bring.
Dan Mullen cannot send a message of giving up on this season and this team after preaching relentless effort all year.
BF: See, this is where you and I differ the most. I want to enter spring camp with a clear #1. I want to enter fall camp with a known starter getting all the first team reps. In case you didn’t realize, Florida opens the season against Miami on a neutral field. This team can’t enter next season splitting training camp reps and expect to win. However, maybe by giving Jones the necessary experience against SEC defenses this season sets the offense up better for next year.
The redshirt doesn’t matter to me. If Jones is a star, he won’t last four full seasons anyway. Also, the way Mullen is recruiting the quarterback position, there should be no fear about the future of the program once Jones exits the program.
And why would Mullen be sending a negative message to the team by benching a QB that has performed (at-best) average, for the potential of Jones? No one criticized Dabo Swinney when he chose to start true freshman Trevor Lawrence over senior QB Kelly Bryant. It was the right move.
I’m not saying that Jones is in Lawrence’s league yet, but I also would suggest we don’t know that he isn’t. I do know that Franks isn’t.
Jones is going to be the starter next season, the writing is on the wall. Dan Mullen even said, ” the plan is to redshirt (Jones), but we will see how it goes moving forward.” That’s a big BUT that tells me something. Clearly, Jones is pushing Franks on the depth chart already. If that is the case, then maybe there wouldn’t be such a drop off. Maybe the team can accomplish all their goals, regardless who is behind center.
And Jones has the locker room. Freshman WR Jacob Copeland tweeted support to Jones following the game. During the Monday media session stud WR Van Jefferson stated, “I feel like he’s going to lead this team to a National Championship.”
MP: Perhaps he will one day lead Florida to a national championship. The talent is there. But for now, he still takes third string reps. Hard to say that he’s pushing Franks until he begins to split first team reps in practice.
*Florida released the official depth chart for the upcoming Missouri game and Feleipe Franks was listed as the starting QB with RS-SO Kyle Trask listed as the backup. This has been the case all season, even prior to the Georgia game.