Dan Mullen’s attention quickly turned to his quarterback, Feleipe Franks, after Saturday’s 27-19 win over LSU.
Franks had turned in a just-good-enough performance, albeit against a stout Tigers defense, but had made a potentially costly mistake in the end zone, in addition to completing less than 50 percent of his passes.
It was improvement, sure, but there was no time to become complacent.
For it was clear Florida’s immediate success continued to hinge on Franks’ gradual improvement. The defense had done an exemplary job Saturday afternoon, and UF’s special teams had consistently given the Gators an advantage — meaning Franks’ progress each week would often be the difference-maker in close contests.
After imploring Franks to lock in and keep improving, Mullen took the lectern 10 minutes later and spoke in general terms about the program’s need to focus on all-around improvement.
“You look at today’s game and we did a lot of things that we got to improve on, that you got to do better,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to improve on the things that we didn’t do well today, but I’m certainly pleased with how we battled, how we fought for four quarters to go find a way to beat one of the top five teams in the country.”
Franks later echoed Mullen’s message, insisting the Gators would rightfully celebrate before soon turning the focus back toward improving.
“I think we have to be a lot better on third downs. By no means was I good enough,” Franks said, “but at the same time we are going to enjoy a win.”
By now, Florida and Franks have heard the rumblings of a potential “trap game” awaiting the team in Nashville when the Gators take on Vanderbilt at 12 p.m. in the team’s final test before the open week.
The real test for Franks and the offense lies in finding an ideal balance. UF has newfound winning mentality and should seek to embrace it, yet the Gators will look to avoid the complacency that often comes with confidence.
“You come to Florida to play in big-time games like that. I mean, a top-five opponent, who doesn’t want to play in that? Go out there and get banged up, continue to fight — that’s fun,” Franks said. “I’m getting more comfortable, but at the same time I think our whole team, our whole offense is getting more comfortable.”
Mullen, who has been vocal about tailoring the offense around the skill set of his personnel, emphasized that was the plan all along. Mullen and the coaching staff didn’t simply develop a game plan ideal for beating the Tigers — the offense was designed to continue building Franks’ confidence, which has been pointed to as one of the key factors in the redshirt sophomore QB’s progress to date.
If Florida comes out Saturday in a similar fashion to last weekend’s 27-19 statement win, the Gators should emerge as victors over the Commodores — but the first half of the season has made clear that the success of the program lies in Franks and the Gators remaining confident in order to continue improving.
Will it lead to why the team began playing the game in the first place — to have fun? Who knows? The quarterback of Florida’s defense, junior linebacker David Reese, seems to think so.
“Have fun out there, learn what you need to learn during practice, be confident in what you do and try to celebrate with the guys,” Reese said, “because that’s what you’re doing. You’re playing football with your guys out in the backyard at the end of the day.”
Who: No. 14 Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-2)
When: 12 p.m.
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Radio: 103.7-FM. AM-850