In the buildup to UF’s 35-31 come-from-behind victory over South Carolina, Florida found itself in a familiar place: embroiled in a quarterback controversy.
It truly began before the season commenced, but UF’s loss to Missouri the week prior ramped up the pressure on coach Dan Mullen and Co. to sort out the quarterback position. Back-up QB Kyle Trask appeared to have an opportunity to usurp Franks, but the competition ended Wednesday when Trask suffered a broken foot during a non-contact portion of practice.
Many had campaigned for Trask to make his first start, and that list seemed to include former UF quarterback Luke Del Rio.
Now operating under the guise of his self-funded podcast ‘The Dropback’, Del Rio has expressed numerous opinions on the current iteration of the Gators, including but not limited to his thoughts on the quarterback situation, the fanbase, Mullen and former UF coach Jim McElwain.
When it came to UF’s current quarterback situation, Del Rio suggested Mullen could lose the support of the Florida fanbase if the first-year Gators head coach opted to stick with Franks rather than make a late-season change. While Del Rio attempted to express his sentiments under a different guise — that of the UF fan base — it came off as his opinion to many, and was discussed by the broadcast crew during Florida’s victory.
Particularly, Del Rio’s opinion wasn’t well-received by Franks, to say the least, nor was it embraced by the rest of the Gators, many of whom promptly blocked Del Rio on social media.
After the contest, junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson opened up about Del Rio’s vocal assessments this season.
“Luke Del Rio is the past. So he’s speaking on a team that he really didn’t have nothing to do with. When he was here, he wasn’t (a) leader. So he can take it how he wants it. He can blog about me, he can blog about my team. But at the end of the day when he was here, he didn’t do no different than anyone else was doing,” Gardner-Johnson said. “If he got comments, he can say it to everybody’s face if it’s a problem. But other than that, he’s not a part of this team. It’s a new standard here, new guys, new chip on our shoulder. We’re ready to go out there and continue to win.”
Whether he was shushing fair-weathered Florida fans or Del Rio, Franks’ pointer finger celebration made the rounds on TV and social media, and soon Mullen and Gardner-Johnson were answering questions unrelated to the redshirt sophomore’s performance on the field.
Those who have watched him absorb the frequent ire of Florida fans felt Franks’ actions were deserved — especially if it results in a 15-for-21 passing performance and two critical rushing touchdowns.
“A lot of people have doubted him since he’s been here, talking crazy about him,” Gardner-Johnson said. “He’s shushing the crowd, telling them we’re not going anywhere and I’m going to continue to lead this team. He led us to a victory today, like Coach said: they’re going to hate you one minute and they’re going to love you when you throw a touchdown pass. You ain’t shush them, they’re going to hate you. So, at the end of the day he went out and competed, he did what he’s supposed to do and he led us to a victory.”
Mullen had a different take, however. Like Gardner-Johnson, he didn’t seem truly upset with Franks’ celebration, although he did note it irked him slightly; in an attempt to justify Franks’ actions, Mullen hypothetically asked the assembled media how old Franks is in an attempt to attribute his behavior and how he handles the resulting scrutiny to his age.
But Mullen didn’t mince words when lamenting the use of social media amongst the Gators. Many programs have banned it — No. 2 Clemson has gone as far as to prohibit players from using Twitter this season. If the Gators are looking to take the next step and ascend the ranks of college football, perhaps said resurgence entails a ban on social media. But not if it brings out the Franks that Florida fans saw for much of Saturday.
“You know what bothers me a lot more: stay the hell off social media if you’re a starting quarterback. Unless it’s for your amusement. I go through my social media for amusement sometimes. But if you click on one every once in a while, and you read all this commentary,” Mullen said, “I’ll go on tonight and read a commentary about my performance from somebody that’s got six followers and follows 27 people, right, and is obviously an expert on college football. I told him, don’t worry about anything that is not going to help us win the football game.”
Who: Idaho Vandals (4-6) vs. No. 15 Florida (7-3)
When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850