Losing your starting quarterback is never easy to recover from. Many teams become shells of themselves without their No. 1 passer under center. Some completely give up all hope.
Alabama needs Tua Tagovailoa just as much as Clemson needs Trevor Lawrence or Georgia needs Jake Fromm. The symbiotic relationship between any given NCAA football team and its leader and signal caller is simply that important.
The same goes for the Florida Gators, who were dealt a crushing blow when they lost quarterback Feleipe Franks for the rest of the season on a Saturday night game back on Sept. 14 against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Kentucky.
Franks dislocated his right ankle on a fourth down rushing attempt in the third quarter when all 310 pounds of Wildcat defensive lineman Calvin Taylor chased him from behind landed on it.
Franks writhed in pain and unhooked his helmet before Florida medical staff placed an air cast on his right leg and carted him off the field. As No. 13 departed Kroger Field, hope for the 2019 season began to fade.
But Gator fans quickly learned that this season is not a wash.
The first reason is obvious: Backup quarterback and redshirt junior Kyle Trask played his ass off. Entering with his team down 10-21 in the start of the fourth quarter against UK, the one-time high school backup at Texas’s Manvel High School showed poise, arm strength, accuracy, and good decision making.
The Gators marched down the field behind Trask’s 4-for-5 passing and 54 yards and went on to score three touchdowns — 19 unanswered points — against a UK defense that had stifled Franks and the offense for the three previous quarters. Franks’ play — including a bad interception on the first drive — was similar to Florida’s season opening win over Miami.
So, was Trask’s heroic play an outlier for just a capable backup quarterback? Or can the 6-foot-5 redshirt junior replicate his gunslinging, clutch comeback play down the stretch against vaunted SEC defenses?
The answer for UF head coach Dan Mullen? Two quarterbacks, both with unique skillsets, which opens up the Gator’s offensive playbook to challenge any defense it faces.
Mullen said in his postgame press conference after Kentucky that redshirt freshman Emory Jones would also receive snaps. This allows Florida to get creative using Jones’ speed, but there’s definitely uncertainty with inexperienced quarterbacks.
In Florida’s 42-28 loss to LSU, both Trask and Jones took snaps, which Mullen said was part of UF’s game plan against a stout Tigers defense. The pair combined for 76 rushing yards, 40 for Trask and 36 for Jones. Trask threw for 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while Jones completed his only pass for a one-yard score.
Few teams will be able to slow down LSU, especially when Florida faced a vaunted night game at Tiger Stadium, but 457 total yards of offense for UF on the night proved that the two QB system is working, and there will be plenty more of it throughout the season.
Even better news for Gator fans is that Mullen is experienced with it. Remember Chris Leak and Tim Tebow? Yeah, of course you do.
Every fan base is hopeful at the start of the season, but I think even the most die-hard orange and blue fans know Franks wasn’t going to be the only guy to take UF on a national championship run.
That’s more of an observation on college football’s lack of parity than it is an insult to Franks. By no means am I saying Franks’ leg injury was a good thing, either. But there are probably five or less NCAA teams capable of winning a national title this year.
The second reason I think this Florida team will compete in the SEC East and possibly the SEC Championship game, especially after Georgia was upset by South Carolina, is its schedule is favorable.
Tennessee and Florida State are downright awful this year, and both of those games are in The Swamp. I’d chalk up a home game Vanderbilt as wins as well.
Florida took care of business against then-No. 8 Auburn, have a neutral-site game against No. 3 Georgia and challenging road games Missouri and South Carolina. The Gamecocks already have three losses, including one against North Carolina, and Mizzou fell to Wyoming in its season opener.
Temper your expectations. Trask is not a Heisman Trophy quarterback like some of these other top-10 teams can boast. But if Mullen can navigate his team to eight or nine wins? Consider it a success. Might as well fill up your Florida glass and get ready for the rest of the season.