GAINESVILLE, Fla. — History repeats itself.
Just ask Tennessee coach Butch Jones. He’s now been burned twice by the Gators, and Saturday will sting for years to come.
Florida coach Jim McElwain won’t forget it either.
“I’ve got some burned images in my mind that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life,” McElwain said after Florida’s 26-20 win over Tennessee.
Like the image of his redshirt freshmen quarterback sprinting down Steve Spurrier Field — arms raised — after throwing a game-winning touchdown to beat the Vols in The Swamp.
Thanks to Feleipe Franks and former Florida QB Will Grier, Gator Nation now has two of those memories.
With 9 seconds left and the score tied Saturday, McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier went with what’s worked before in that situation.
“Train ride open, Big Ben in.”
Same call. Same distance. Same scenario. Same result.
Perhaps the Gators should run that play more often?
“Believe me,” McElwain said, “I’ve thought about it.”
Like Grier in 2015, Franks beat the Vols with some late-game heroics and impressive composure for a quarterback making his first SEC start at home.
All Florida fans remember Grier’s last throw against Tennessee, but don’t forget about his prior pass attempts. He struggled mightily through the first three quarters, leaving many to wonder whether then-suspended QB Treon Harris would have played in the second half if available.
But McElwain had to let Grier play through those growing pains, unlike he did two weeks prior against East Carolina or with Franks in Dallas this year.
Grier cut his teeth against Tennessee, bouncing back from an earlier interception and showing the clutch gene with the game on the line.
Franks did the same.
“It was interesting,” McElwain said. “He was very calm. I think the one thing I saw out of it was that he was just very calm. Didn’t get rattled after the interception.
“Getting a win under your belt playing an SEC opponent, you know, I think he’ll just continue to get a little better.”
Grier certainly has. The following week, he completed 24 of 29 pass attempts for 271 yards and 4 touchdowns in Florida’s 38-10 win over Ole Miss.
Now the starting QB at West Virginia, Grier already has more than 1,000 yards passing and 11 touchdowns through the first three games of 2017.
Beating Tennessee did wonders for Grier’s game and confidence. It could do the same for Franks.
“It’s a really big game,” Franks said. “It gives us confidence going into our next game on the road at Kentucky. It was important for our players and our fans.”
The game was of most importance to Franks, who got the nod Saturday despite looking rattled and overwhelmed in his first start against Michigan.
If Franks didn’t deliver against Tennessee, Luke Del Rio is your starting quarterback at Kentucky. He lit up the Wildcats last year, but there will be no blast from the past next weekend.
The future is now.
Grier and Franks were both Elite 11 finalists who ranked in the top 60 nationally as recruits. Like most signal callers of that caliber, Grier had a private QB coach and worked with him year-round. His father, Chad Grier, was also his high school coach.
Franks, on the other hand, had no offensive coordinator or position coach at the prep level.
Grier played in three games and attempted 57 career passes before facing Tennessee. Franks basically had one half of experience coming into Saturday.
He hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential and still has so much to work on. Imagine where his game will be the next time Florida hosts the Vols.
One piece of advice for Franks: stay away from steroids. You have plenty of arm strength.