GAINESVILLE —After Florida coach Dan Mullen said repeatedly that his starting quarterback didn't have a short leash, Feleipe Franks ran out of rope Saturday afternoon.
Mullen replaced Franks with fellow redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask in the third quarter of the No. 13 Gators' 38-17 homecoming loss to Missouri. Mullen didn't rule out the possibility of a long-term change.
"Same as it's been all year," Mullen said of the quarterback situation. "We'll see."
Except it's not the same as it's been all year.
Mullen said after the Colorado State win that Franks "doesn't have a short leash, we're going to play him." He reaffirmed that position Monday, even after Franks had two costly turnovers in the 36-17 loss to Georgia.
But Mullen's tone was different Saturday, after the Gators (6-3, 4-3 SEC) suffered their second consecutive double-digit loss to sputtering Missouri (5-4, 1-4).
"We'll see how they perform this week," Mullen said. "If there's a drastic change, we'll make a change. If not, we'll play with who's going to give us the best chance to win."
Mullen and the coaching staff decided during preseason camp that player was Franks. And it might have been, until he delivered one of the worst games of his career.
Franks finished 9-of-22 passing for 84 yards against one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Franks also rushed for a touchdown, but his passing efficiency (73.0) was the second-lowest of his career.
Saturday marked the first time he was benched under Mullen but the third time he has been pulled in 17 UF starts (last year against Michigan and Kentucky). He also lost his starting job before Missouri last year but regained it for the final two weeks.
Mullen, rightfully, didn't put all the blame on Franks. Missouri gashed UF's run defense for 221 yards. The Gators' talented running back trio combined for only 84 yards. The offensive line regularly failed to give Franks enough protection.
But after back-to-back three-and-outs to start the second half, Mullen had to do something.
"I'm certainly not here pointing the finger that (Franks) was terrible, and we didn't pull him because he was terrible," Mullen said. "We pulled him because the offense was not moving, and we wanted to see if somebody else could get it done with Kyle."
Trask got something done after entering with five minutes left in the third quarter. In his first meaningful drive at UF, he converted twice on fourth down. The second one was especially impressive: He correctly diagnosed the defensive pressure and audibled to a quick slant, which receiver Josh Hammond caught for a 7-yard touchdown.
"He checked it for me to run the slant and put the ball in a good place for me to make a play," Hammond said.
By then it was too late. The Gators trailed 35-17 and were doomed for a loss that likely knocks them out of contention for a New Year's Six bowl.
While Mullen tried other things to spark the offense, including change-of-pace back Dameon Pierce, he didn't consider playing blue-chip true freshman quarterback Emory Jones; UF didn't plan a package for Jones against Missouri, and they still want to limit him to two more games to preserve his redshirt.
Mullen didn't have much to say about Trask's performance (10-of-18, 126 yards) Saturday. He said Trask did OK with a quick-enough delivery but missed a throw or two.
Although Franks and Trask battled for the job all spring and into preseason camp, Franks remained ahead. But Trask closed the gap last week.
"I thought he had a pretty good week of practice," Mullen said. "So why not give him the opportunity to see what he can do?"
The unanswered question: Was it enough to reignite the competition for the final three games?
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.