Florida coach Dan Mullen on Wednesday presented a “What If” defense for suddenly beleaguered quarterback Feleipe Franks, who has drawn all kinds of criticism for his three-turnover performance in the win over Miami last Saturday.
What if his first-down interception with less than five minutes remaining had gone for a Gator touchdown instead?
That’s what Mullen was looking for when he called the play — a touchdown.
“We felt we set them up for this play,” Mullen said. “We felt that they were going to be ready to stop the run because we’re going to try to run out the clock. We’re going to hit them with this play-action pass, guy’s going to be wide open and we hit an explosive play.
“If that happens, you flip Feleipe’s stats. He’s 18 of 26 for 320 yards passing, three touchdowns and a pick and he has all the answers: ‘What an unbelievable game. Look at his development through the offseason. Unbelievable.’ ”
That, of course, is not what happened.
What happened is the Hurricanes put instant pressure on Franks. He responded by trying to throw the ball away, but didn’t have enough on his pass to get it out of bounds and the ball was intercepted.
It was Franks’ third turnover of the game and it’s led to a great deal of criticism directed at him on social media and the regular media.
In retrospect, Mullen said Franks should have taken a sack on the play.
“Boy, that’s real hard to teach,” Mullen said. “It’s really hard to teach guys to take sacks. He was trying to throw it away and he doesn’t get enough on it and it gets picked. Maybe not a great call by me. All the combinations in that one call.”
That one negative play may have defined Franks’ performance in the eyes of the critics, but Mullen said his quarterback’s overall performance was, for the most part, positive.
“Could he make better decisions at different times in the game?” Mullen said. “Yeah, probably ones that people wouldn’t even talk about or know about that I’d look into. We could have made this read better, could have made that read better. But overall in the first game I thought he did (good) things.There were a lot of positives.”
Perhaps the biggest positive was the way Franks responded after throwing his first interception on an overthrow to wide receiver Freddie Swain earlier in the fourth quarter.
On his very next play, Franks threw a 65-yard strike to wide receiver Josh Hammond. Two plays later, Franks scored the winning touchdown on a three-yard run.
“He threw a pick in the fourth quarter that could have been the deciding factor of the game,” Mullen said. “The next time we got the ball, he accounted for every yard on that drive that we scored the touchdown.
“He accounted for every yard, either running or throwing, on the game-winning touchdown drive. I don’t know if Feleipe Franks could have done that last year. I think that pick might have affected him. Instead of him coming back in, not even the blink of an eye, he accounted for every play on the scoring drive.
“What if he hits that pass for a touchdown on that (second interception)? Everyone makes a whole different deal out of things.”
Franks’ other turnover came on a fumbled exchange with running back Lamical Perine inside the UM 10-yard line in the first half. Mullen said that play should have gone for a touchdown.
“We missed an exchange on a run/pass option and we end up fumbling the ball and we don’t fall on it, they fall on it,” Mullen said. “If he pulls it out and makes the throw, it’s a touchdown.”
Mullen said UF’s other lost fumble, by Malik Davis in the first half, also could have gone for six points.
“Malik Davis dropped the pitch,” Mullen said. “If you look at that on the film, it might have been a touchdown if he catches the pitch.”
For the Gators, and especially Franks, there were a lot of “What Ifs” that could have made the reaction to UF’s win a lot different than it’s been on social media.
Who: Tennessee-Martin (0-0) vs. No. 8 Florida (1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: ESPNU/SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850