While Gator Nation melts down around them, the Florida Gators are vowing to stick together and try and fix things. They’re also standing behind their beleaguered quarterback, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks.
“There’s really no difficulties,” senior cornerback Duke Dawson said. “One thing we preached after this game — and just all the time — is just stand together. Just stand as one unit. Don’t let everybody go to their own little corners or go into their own little groups. Just everybody stand together.”
Junior defensive end Cece Jefferson said the mood in the UF locker room is good.
“There is nobody fighting and bickering,” Jefferson said. “There is a lot of coming together and leaders stepping up, which is exactly what we need at times like this. The mood is pretty mellow right now.”
Standing together means standing behind their quarterback, and that’s what Franks’ teammates plan to do coming off another disappointing SEC home loss, this one to Texas A&M, 19-17, on Saturday night.
It was another struggle for Franks and the offense, which was playing without two of its top playmakers — wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney.
Franks threw two interceptions, was sacked five times and had issues again converting third downs (4 of 15).
“As the quarterback, I’ve just got to do a better job,” Franks said. “Ultimately, it’s on me.”
But junior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said all the blame should not fall on Franks. There’s plenty to spread around, he said.
“We’ve got to protect well and we’ve got to run the ball effectively,” Ivey said. “We’ve got to make everything easier for him. We know he’s a young guy and he hasn’t played much, he’s developing every week. I trust him, I believe in him. I go up to him before every series and let him know, ‘I got your back, dog. Do your thing, I believe in you.’
“It’s no mistakes. He’s also got to learn the game, everybody doesn’t start out the best. You learn over time and get in certain situations, you develop working hard for the game. And right now, yeah he’s learning. But he’s also doing his best and he’s out there trying. That’s all you can ask for in the guy, right?”
Disgruntled fans seem to have lost patience with Franks and the sputtering offense, but UF’s only other option appears to be Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire, a dual-threat quarterback who was ineffective coming off the bench in the second half in the loss to Michigan in the opener. The plan is to redshirt true freshman Jake Allen.
UF coach Jim McElwain was asked after the game if the quarterback position would be re-evaluated during the open date this week.
“We’re going to do just what we do every week,” he said.
McElwain said the Gators need to get to work on fixing things this week in preparation for the Georgia game in two weeks.
“It’s hard to have a loss going into a bye week, yet we have an opportunity to work (on) some things this week in practice,” he said. “We’ll get some good work in getting ready for Georgia. I believe in these guys. I believe in this team and I will continue to do that and we’ll continue to push and get a little bit better. We’ve got a lot of ball ahead of us. A lot of good teams. Just going to go take care of business.”
Coming off the back-to-back losses, this is a critical time for a young football team. Will the Gators hang in there together, or will they fracture?
Franks said the team’s leaders will hold things together and keep things positive.
“We’ll come back after this next week, have a really good, hard practicing week,” he said. “The leadership will really show. The guys are really great and we’re going to really step up. We’re going to be just fine.”
Franks said the Gators will tune out the negative noise blaring throughout Gator Nation.
“I don’t think motivation is a problem for us,” he said. “We have a bunch of great leaders in the locker room. People are going to say what they want to say. That’s the big thing. You can’t listen to the outside sources. Nobody is in the locker room with us. People actually don’t know. We have a bunch of great leaders in the locker room and we’re going to be just fine.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.