At least for one night, for one game, his many critics had to remain silent. Not a word. Not a single complaint.
They had no choice. Because beleaguered Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks put on a performance that was pretty close to flawless in leading the No. 11 Gators to a 45-0 rout of UT Martin on Saturday night before 80,007 in The Swamp.
Spreading the ball around to his many different playmakers and efficiently moving the offense, Franks completed 25 of 27 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns. One of those two incompletions came on a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half. He also rushed for 37 yards, averaging 6.2 yards a carry.
If his many critics — all those who came storming out of the woodwork again following his three-turnover effort in the win over Miami two weeks ago — find fault in those numbers, then it’s become personal.
Franks’ coaches and teammates have always had his back. On Saturday night, he gave them all kinds of reasons to stay solidly where they are.
“He showed his maturity of taking what they were giving us,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “They’ve got eight guys dropping all over the place, guys going deep, five guys underneath in zone coverage.
“He did a good job of really not forcing things. He might have missed one or two thrown down the field that he had, but no need to force it. Check down. He played pretty well. It was a good night.”
Franks would have had a perfect first half — 15 for 15 — if two more seconds weren’t put back on the clock by the officials, giving the Gators (2-0) an opportunity to throw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone that fell incomplete.
Other than that, no pass attempts by Franks hit the ground. What they did is fall into the arms and hands of his receivers.
He threw a picture-perfect deep ball to Van Jefferson for a 69-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. A few minutes later, he found a wide-open Tyrie Cleveland and hit him in stride for a 39-yard TD pass that gave the Gators a 17-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, Franks led the Gators on touchdown drives in their first two possessions to put the game away at 31-0.
“I thought it was good, everything was clicking,” Franks said. “I try to take what the defense gives me. I want to be smart. I’m never going to be perfect. I try to learn every day from (quarterbacks) coach (Brian) Johnson and Coach Mullen.
“I feel like I made pretty good decisions. I think we can roll with that.”
Franks did not play in the fourth quarter, turning the game over to Kyle Trask and Emory Jones, both of whom accounted for touchdowns — Trask on a 9-yard TD pass to Jacob Copeland and Jones on a 16-yard run.
In his three quarters of work, Franks effectively spread the ball around to UF’s playmakers, completing passes to nine different receivers.
“I believe Feleipe is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” senior wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “I’ve said that and I still believe it. He did a great job tonight.”
Even though the 41-point underdog Skyhawks were technically in the game going into the second half, Mullen felt comfortable enough to insert numerous true and redshirt freshmen and some other younger players who have not played much, if any.
“It was great,” Mullen said. “We played (young guys) throughout the game. That’s one thing we went in wanting to do. I wanted guys rolling right from the beginning. It seemed that we were rolling a lot of players though. They were getting reps with the one defense. Same offensively.”
While Franks and the offense were amassing 45 points and 543 total yards, the defense was shutting down UT Martin (1-1) for most of the night, holding the Skyhawks to just 194 yards of offense, only 54 on the ground. The Gators also had five sacks, 10 tackles for losses and produced their first defensive turnover of the season on true freshman cornerback Kaiir Elam’s interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Things will now start getting tougher for the Gators, who open SEC play Saturday at Kentucky.
“We’ve got to crank it up, and it starts on Monday morning when we show up,” Mullen said. “We have a good attitude. We just have to have more of a grind it sense of urgency now.”
Who: No. 11 Florida (2-0) vs. Kentucky (2-0)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lexington, Ky.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850