Florida’s 38-0 first-half scoring barrage against Charleston Southern may seem meaningless in the scheme of things, but it accomplished an important goal: restoring the confidence of the Gators offense.
For nearly a decade now, Florida and its offensive playmakers have heard the outside voices labeling the Gators as a team laden with defensive talent and not much else.
And after a 4-7 season in 2017, the season opener gave Florida a chance to sway the opinions of others — and silence any remaining internal doubt — about UF’s potential on offense this season under new head coach Dan Mullen.
“To have a good game and get a victory is a good thing, it gets the confidence going for us,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “It was a great little confidence-booster.”
Confidence may be key for Franks, who struggled last season in his first glimpses of collegiate action. Saturday featured a seemingly improved Franks — one who didn’t key in on his targets or force any throws en route to a five-touchdown performance in the air.
The quarterbacks coach brought in to unleash his potential, Brian Johnson, believes early confidence is a vital aspect for an inexperienced QB such as Franks. Doubt creeps in when there’s an absence of confidence, and the last thing a UF team with momentum needs is Franks to regress to past habits.
“It’s very, very critical to their success, especially for a young player,” Johnson said of Franks building confidence. “The more success you have, and get off to a good start, it becomes contagious throughout the game. It becomes contagious to your teammates.”
If Franks’ teammates are to be believed, Johnson is right on the money with his assessment of the infectious confidence bubbling around the Crawfordville native.
Besides, if Florida is expected to run the up-tempo offense Mullen intends to employ, there’s no room for any insecurity — especially when it comes to Franks, the “manager” of Florida’s offense.
The confidence of the Franks-led offense on Saturday didn’t go unnoticed by the Florida wide receivers, although several added they had seen signs of his progression in the offseason.
“It was very big for us, being able to start a season off 1-0. It’s always the next game to play in and we’re going to get ready and prepared for Kentucky,” junior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland said. “This offseason, this summer conditioning, (Feleipe) really pushed himself and he came and worked on his leadership with the team. I feel like that was a big confidence boost for him. I feel like as the weeks go on he’s going to get even better.”
Redshirt senior Dre Massey concurred, adding Franks’ confidence should only increase as he ages, subsequently elevating his ability on the field.
“I would say the most difficult thing would be thinking fast. You just got to click, you got to know what you got, hurry up and get it,” Massey said. “I think being younger, it’s kind of harder to do that, but it goes with confidence and then knowing the playbook.”
Yet for Franks, the elephant in the room isn’t his confidence or talent level, but rather his ability to erase the painful memories of 2017 and become an incisive football player.
It’s clear the talent and physical tools are there for him to be a talented quarterback — it’s also clear it won’t happen with uncertainty and a lack of confidence. For Franks, a short memory and an a confident approach may be the key to a successful career.
“It’s a completely different year, and the world that we live in now, it’s a week-to-week deal with every quarterback. About half the quarterbacks in the country that lost got told on Twitter that they’re terrible. That’s the world we live in — it’s very polarized, and to me, that’s where the mental toughness comes in at the quarterback position, being able to block that stuff out and worry about what really matters, which is your teammates, your feedback from your coaches and your family,” Johnson said of quarterbacks in 2018. “You’ve got to be able to handle that and not let it affect you in terms of how you prepare and how you get ready to go play.”