GAINESVILLE — After one of the most turbulent weeks of his turbulent Florida career, quarterback Feleipe Franks entered Saturday wanting to silence the critics in his fan base.
He made sure they got the message.
Franks shushed the crowd after his first touchdown rush and again after diving for the winning score in No. 19 UF's 35-31 victory over South Carolina (and former Gators coach Will Muschamp).
"To be honest with you, I'm a super emotional player and that's what makes it a two-way street," Franks said. "A lot of people are going to like me, and a lot of people are not going to like me."
Even though Franks led the Gators (7-3, 5-3 SEC) back from a 17-point second-half deficit, his performance as a whole probably won't win over a lot of fans. Whatever you felt before Saturday, your opinion probably hasn't changed. Either you like him, or you don't.
There were reasons to back up either thought Saturday. Start with the negatives, because that's how he began.
Already down 7-0, Franks fumbled on a sack on UF's first drive, but teammate Jordan Scarlett recovered. On the next play, Franks sailed a third-down pass to Josh Hammond that hit a Gamecocks defensive back in the hands.
Less than nine minutes into the game, the boos began.
"I told him, you're going to get booed," UF coach Dan Mullen said.
It happened to Chris Leak in 2006, when Mullen was a UF assistant, and all Leak did was win a national title that season.
The boos came last week, too, when Mullen benched Franks in the third quarter of UF's 38-17 loss to Missouri. Mullen didn't have that option this week; the rekindled quarterback battle ended when backup Kyle Trask injured his foot Wednesday.
"We hadn't made any decision about anything," Mullen said, "and then the decision kind of got made for us."
Franks, eventually, made the most of it. He was adequate as a passer; he completed 15 of his 21 passes with one touchdown but only 161 yards. But for perhaps the first time under Mullen, he was a willing and capable runner, rushing a career-high 14 times for 50 yards (excluding sacks).
Franks didn't slash across the field, the way he did in his epic run last year against Texas A&M. He pounded into defenders. He, admittedly, ran angry.
"Like I said, I'm an emotional player," Franks said. "I'm a physical player, and whatever's asked of me to do, I'm going to do it."
That was obvious on his two biggest plays of the game.
Midway through the second quarter and trailing 14-7, Franks took a third-down snap and rushed right. He ran through a South Carolina defender at the 3 and kept pushing until he crossed the goal line, when another opponent stood him up.
Franks celebrated with a Gator chomp and by bringing his index finger to his facemask three times, apparently to silence his own fans and critics. He appeared to yell something along those lines at them, too.
"Maybe that's something I shouldn't have did…" Franks said. "I'm a competitive guy, emotional guy, and that's the way I play my game and you know, so I do apologize for that."
UF fans will probably start forgiving him if he continues to do what he did after UF fell behind 31-14 late in the third quarter.
Franks completed six of his next seven passes to lead UF on three consecutive scoring drives. He had a role in two of them.
While Kadarius Toney deserves much of the credit for Franks' 18-yard touchdown pass, the last score was on Franks. After getting stopped just shy of the goal line on third down, Franks took the snap and dove in for the game winner with 4:09 left.
Franks celebrated by flexing his muscles and bringing his finger toward his lips again.
There weren't any boos this time. Only cheers.
"Yeah," Franks said with a smirk. "That's how it works."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.