Thanks to some late big scoring plays, a dreary and dismal day for Florida’s offense at least ended trending toward the positive Friday afternoon in The Swamp.
An overall ugly, and at times inept, performance did not look or feel quite as bad as it probably should have thanks to those late plays — a 28-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to tight end Moral Stephens, an 80-yard TD strike from Kyle Trask to Trevon Grimes and a scrimmage-ending 50-yard TD pass from Franks to Grimes.
“Yeah, big plays are always a good thing,” Franks said. “At the same time you want to create drives and get completions and move the chains on third down, things like that. But big plays like that definitely give the guys energy.”
Before the big plays, there were a lot of bad plays on offense, many of them attributed to Franks. The redshirt sophomore has been having a good spring and seemed to distance himself a little bit from his competition in the first two weeks of spring.
But his performance on a wet and slippery Friday may have moved him back toward his competition, especially Trask.
Franks and the No. 1 offense were clearly out of sync through the first half of the scrimmage and early into the second half.
In the first half, Franks completed just three of 11 passes for only 14 yards and was intercepted twice, once in the end zone by true freshman defensive back Trey Dean.
While Franks was floundering, Trask produced a much more competent and encouraging first-half performance, completing seven of 10 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, coming on a 30-yard screen pass to wide receiver Josh Hammond.
UF coach Dan Mullen addressed his offensive players at halftime, then the Gators came out in the second half focused on establishing a ground game, which the offense managed to do.
Jordan Scarlett scored on a four-yard run, then a little later sophomore Adarius Lemons produced the biggest play of the day, a 89-yard touchdown run after bursting through a hole over the right side and out-sprinting the secondary to the end zone.
“(Coach Mullen) just basically said our execution wasn’t there,” Franks said. “We had too many MAs, which is missed assignments, guys going totally opposite ways. Sometimes it was because of the quarterback as well, doing things we’re not coached to do. That’s the whole process of just learning a new playbook. You get used to it. That’s why we don’t play our first game for another eight months. It’s a stepping stone. That’s about it.”
Once the offense had some success on the ground, more followed in the passing game with the late big plays.
“The running game is super important in football,” Franks said. “It’s sort of a general rule — the running game is going to open up the passing game at the same time. Our guys did a really good job of working with what they had, the rainy circumstances. That’s what you come out here and do. Coach Mullen put us in these kind of situations. It definitely could be raining on a Saturday this season. Just keep on pushing, that’s all we really can do.”
Franks’ best pass of the day came in his next-to-last possession, when he threw a 35-yard strike to Van Jefferson on a seam route. One play later he hooked up with a wide-open Stephens on a play-action pass that resulted in a 28-yard TD.
In his final possession, Franks threw another TD strike, this one for 50 yards to a wide-open Grimes after Dean slipped and fell.
The late success salvaged Franks’ day. But his final numbers still are a little bit disturbing: only seven completions in 22 attempts for 127 yards and two touchdowns to go along with three interceptions.
“It’s always hard when you get a new playbook in,” Franks said. “It’s your first scrimmage, you’re not expected to come out here and be 100 percent and everything. Execution as a whole wasn’t there. Not really worried too much about the first scrimmage.
“It’s not always going to be pretty. When I walked out of the tunnel I didn’t expect to come out here and go 80-percent passing and 30 touchdowns. We’re going to have our struggles. New playbook. We’re going to take our stepping stones. There’s going to be highs, there are going to be lows.”
Unlike Franks, Trask had more highs than lows Friday. He was clearly the better quarterback, and it is reflected in the scrimmage statistics.
Trask completed 12-of-18 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, to go go along with one interception. He put together a nine-play, 75-yard TD drive early in the second half that culminated with a 17-yard scoring pass to tight end C’yontai Lewis.
The scrimmage appeared to be a step forward for Trask — and a step closer to Franks in the competition for the starting role.
“I feel like I did a good job,” Trask said. “My goal was just to execute at a high level, and I feel like I did a decent job of that. My focus now is just to take this, and just continue to try and develop myself. I still think I’ve got a ways to go if I really want to be an elite quarterback. Just really got to keep doing my routine, keep getting better and better every week.”