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Fennelly: Feleipe Franks remains an enigma

The Florida Gators quarterback was at his best and his worst in Saturday’s win over Miami.
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) gets emotional after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against Miami Hurricanes on Saturday [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Aug. 25
Updated Aug. 26

ORLANDO — The game could have set back college football 150 years.

Three-and-a-half hours of heat and humiliation before Florida outlasted Miami 24-20, a modern-art masterpiece with an ugly Rorschach finish.

“That was exhausting,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said.

I’ll tell you what’s exhausting: waiting for Feleipe Franks.

Miami committed 14 penalties for 118 yards. Florida had 10 sacks. Miami had a redshirt freshman quarterback in Jarren Williams and two freshman offensive lineman. Miami went 2-for-13 on third-down conversions.

MORE GATORS: UF gets 10 sack against Miami

And the Hurricanes should have won the game.

It was Franks who made that possible, with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, but his bacon was saved as Miami didn’t come away with any points.

It reminded us, however, that we still have no idea what Mullen and Florida have in this inconsistent redshirt-junior quarterback. The Gators are trying to reach the next level after going 10-3 in 2018, and despite all we heard in the offseason, that Franks’ time has come, he still doesn’t look like the guy to get them there. He still leaves us dazed and confused.

• Fact: Franks ran for the winning touchdown at Camping World Stadium.

• Fact: He completed 17 of 27 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

• Fact: He missed a lot and seemed jittery.

• Fact: He fumbled early in the second quarter on a botched handoff at the Miami 7 on first and goal and a chance for the Gators to go up 14-3.

• Fact: Those two picks.

• Fact: After the first pick, which led to a missed Miami field goal, he hit Josh Hammond perfectly for 65 yards to set up the winning score.

• Fact: For no reason he threw into crowded coverage, just as he was hit, and was intercepted. I have no idea why Mullen has his throwing at all in that situation, under five minutes left.

“That’s on me,” Mullen said.

But this season, all of it, rides on how far Franks has come. And he still comes and goes.

Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) takes a knee in prayer before the game at Camping World Stadium on August 24, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

Franks can be the guy who two seasons ago threw the 63-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland on the final play to beat Tennessee at the Swamp. A hero.

Franks can be the guy who last season was booed off the field and benched at that same Swamp during a gruesome loss to Missouri. A goat.

Franks can be the guy who last season led the Gators to four wins in their last four games, including a stomping of Michigan in the Peach Bowl. A hero.

We just never know. The 6-foot-6 Franks, who arrived in Gainesville three years ago as a dual threat, still has not ascended to the lofty Florida QB throne defined by the statues of Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow outside Florida’s stadium. Tough road.

Franks passed for 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2018, which boded well for this season. Mullen talked him up constantly. But the rubber hit the road Saturday and the 21-year-old from Crawfordville was all over the highway.

“I was pleased with a bunch of stuff from him,” Mullen said. “One of the things he knows is we’re going to put the games in his hands. There were some teachable moments in there, some things he can continue to learn. The things I kept seeing from him is that even if things weren’t going right, he came right back firing.”

And then held on as the defense saved him.

Franks thinks he can turn the corner, take that next step.

“I feel that I can,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to keep on improving and improving, week to week.”

At the moment, I would probably take Miami’s Williams, with a good offensive line, over Franks. Who really thinks Franks is clearly the guy to beat LSU again? Or Georgia at all? To get Florida back to the top of college football, it’s going to be a wild ride. That’s what it was Saturday. That’s life with Feleipe Franks. And it’s not going to change anytime soon.

The wait continues.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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