Analyzing Florida’s potential strategies, options at quarterback if struggles continue

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Florida coach Jim McElwain continues to voice his support and confidence for redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks as the quarterback goes through the ups and downs of being a newcomer in the SEC.

As for the criticism of Franks to this point, it’s not so much about what he’s doing but rather what he’s not doing.

He’s only thrown 1 interception. However, the Gators also managed only 108 passing yards last week against LSU for the lowest total in McElwain’s two and a half seasons with the program, and the coaches don’t seem to have enough trust in the young quarterback to give him a more dynamic game plan.

Asked earlier this week if backup quarterback Malik Zaire was pushing Franks for the starting job, McElwain gave no indication that’s the case.

“Malik’s been doing a really good job. We’ll still, we’ll go with Feleipe and move forward from there,” McElwain said.

He also commented how he likes Franks’ mindset and the progress he sees behind the scenes in practices.

“I think his confidence level is pretty good. He’s done a really good job continuing trying to see the things we need to get a little bit better at,” McElwain said. “I think some of the tempo pieces we worked this week are going to hopefully help him, kind of with the comfort of getting things in and out. He’s been good. Like I said, he’s a confident guy. And doesn’t waver. That’s one of the good qualities about him.”

It would seem to be a very pivotal week at the position, though. Another loss strains Florida’s chances to compete for the SEC East title and opens the door for two weeks of even louder grumbling from the fan base heading into the bye week.

Franks could silence those critics with a productive performance against a Texas A&M team that can be beat through the air. If not, here is a sampling of the questions that have come in this week.

They collectively form the latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day:

Justin W. asks … “When does Zaire get a decent shot? Can’t really say anything about him coming in late in the Michigan game.”

Damon Y. asks … “ So what is the chance we see Zaire? He has a bit more ‘game experience.’ With all the procedural issues (do you) think he could at least get us past those issues?”

Mike A. asks … “What’s the chances of (Jake) Allen playing this year?”

Coach L. asks … “Where is (Kyle) Trask?”

Let’s get the latter ones out of the way first.

Jake Allen is not going to play this season. He is a raw freshman who joined the program this summer and is  learning and progressing in the offense.

The number of first-year freshmen QBs having success around college football has obscured the perception. That’s that the norm. Most freshmen at that position need the time to learn and grow behind the scenes. A year and a half in, Franks is still working at that. Allen is not an option in 2017.

And Trask isn’t even available. The redshirt freshman, who lost the spring quarterback competition with Franks, had a procedure on his foot prior to the start of the season and continues to rehab. As of Oct. 2, McElwain said “he’s still a ways away.”

So if Florida were to choose to make a change at quarterback at any point Saturday or during the bye week, Zaire is the option. And he’s an intriguing one.

For regular readers, this will sound familiar, but it remains confusing that so many fans were so excited for Zaire’s arrival as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame this summer and now have concluded he can’t help this team.

That’s yet to be seen until he gets a real opportunity. As one questioner noted, his second-half stint in the season opener against Michigan was not a situation conducive for anyone to have success. The Wolverines had mauled the Gators for two-plus quarters, thoroughly shutting down the offense and overwhelming the offensive line. Zaire walked into a losing situation.

As to the other points, I would expect Zaire, as a fifth-year senior who had success against LSU and Texas while at Notre Dame, would be an upgrade with regard to the pre-snap and field vision struggles Franks seems to have. Simply from the standpoint of experience and poise if nothing else.

Maybe Zaire is further behind in the playbook, but the Gators haven’t unveiled an overly creative or complex-looking offense. I have to imagine he could handle the same collection of plays being given to Franks. And if he can prove to be better at scanning the field and finding the second and third options when the primary target is covered, maybe he could elevate the passing attack.

Add in his mobility as an extra dynamic and there seems to be upside with his skill set.

With Florida’s margin for error slim as Georgia separates itself atop the East standings, now is the time to find out what the Gators have with Zaire if Franks can’t get it done.

“If” is the key word there. Franks can make all of this moot by delivering his best performance of the season Saturday and giving the Gators’ rushing attack the help it needs.

Eventually, if the Gators fall out of contention in the East, sure, ride with Franks through the ups and downs in hopes he can parlay the experience into a better 2018. But with Florida’s goals still in view, the coaches should remain open-minded to their other option if needed.

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