GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s been a pretty good week for Florida when the biggest debate seems to have been whether Feleipe Franks’ game-winning 63-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland last Saturday truly was a “Hail Mary”.
Let’s tackle that one here at the top — it was a high-difficulty, desperation heave that worked out perfectly and resulted in a momentous win for the Gators. Call it what you want.
Now, on to some tougher questions.
These are the best ones left by fans on our SEC Country Florida Gators Facebook page this week.
Sharvin B. asks … “Will we see more plays for Dre Massey? He hasn’t been targeted much, especially how he was raved about in the offseason.”
Good question. Tough question. I’m not fully in a wait-and-see mode on Massey. It seems he’s been usurped by freshman Kadarius Toney, who has a similar skill set and role in the offense. With Toney making defenders looks silly last week, it only makes sense to give him more touches moving forward. I think that comes at the expense of Massey. The redshirt junior should still be involved. Coach Jim McElwain stated he doesn’t want to overload Toney, who is still early in the transition from quarterback to receiver. But until Massey shows something on offense, I’m inclined to believe he’s stuck behind Brandon Powell and Toney.
CJ S. asks .. “Have the coaches held back in the play calling so it’s getting certain things on film to set up new wrinkles that will have bigger plays late in the season?”
I honestly don’t think so. More to the point: Florida can’t afford to hold anything back on offense. Every SEC game is hugely important and they showed last week how slim their margin for error is at this point. There is so much pressure on offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and McElwain to get the offense going that they need to use any edge they feel they have available. I think the reality is a combination of Franks missing on some reads that might have led to a couple more opportunities downfield and Nussmeier still coaching too conservatively with his young quarterback. The Gators have to open up the passing game, though. That much is clear. They will never elevate this offense while relying on a majority of screens, sideline passes and short dink-and-dunks over the middle.
Brandon L. asks … “Do you think [Chauncey] Gardner should go back to corner? He looked horrible trying to tackle against Tennessee.”
No. He obviously whiffed on some tackles and McElwain acknowledged that, but I’m inclined to believe he was playing hurt and that might have limited some of his mobility. Just two weeks earlier he was on crutches and in a walking boot after the Michigan game, and it’s possible he tweaked his undisclosed leg/ankle/foot injury. Moreover, though, Florida wants to get its best playmakers in that secondary on the field together, and Gardner clearly is one of them. He had 3 interceptions down the stretch last season while starting at safety and was MVP of the Outback Bowl. He’s capable of making game-changing plays.
Surely, the tackling woes were a point of emphasis this week. It’s something to monitor going forward. But if they move Gardner to cornerback, that means limiting freshmen Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson (who has 2 pick-6s already) to a nickel or rotational role while thrusting an unproven safety (Jeawon Taylor, Quincy Lenton, Shawn Davis) into a starting role. I don’t think that solves any problems.
Wytosky C. asks … “Why is Antonneous Clayton not getting any run? He was a 5-star recruit and he had a pretty good spring.”
We get this question multiple times every week, and the answer remains the same.
Defensive end might be Florida’s deepest position group with CeCe Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite and Jordan Sherit all capable of contributing as starters. Clayton simply hasn’t proven himself to be a better option that those guys yet, and the coaches aren’t going to force-feed him opportunities.
He’s stuck behind a lot of talented players and has to earn his reps in practice. If the Gators had fewer options at D-end, he’d probably be getting on the field more. It’s not anything personal against him, but which one of those four guys deserves to have a lesser role so Clayton can play? None.
Zuniga and Polite rank among the most effective defensive ends in the SEC. Jefferson has significant experience and immense upside, and Sherit is a proven veteran who had 2 sacks against Michigan.
I don’t see this as a knock on Clayton. Yes, high expectations come with those elite recruiting rankings, but some guys need more time to develop than others. I wouldn’t write him off at all. He’ll get a chance eventually.
Drea A. asks … “What is this I’m hearing about Dan Mullen coming to coach at Florida? Is Coach Mac really on the block?
Those are merely fan-driven rumors with no foundation at this point. It’s easy to connect the dots. Mullen used to be the offensive coordinator at Florida, he’s coaching a fun and successful offense at Mississippi State, former Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin is now at Florida, etc.
I don’t think McElwain’s job security is in question at all right now. He built up some goodwill with the back-to-back SEC East titles to start his tenure, and he’s started to really turn the corner in recruiting with stacked 2018 and 2019 classes lined up if all those commits hold firm.
I can’t see Stricklin pushing the reset button and risking a setback in recruiting, regardless of what happens this season. If this fall really ends poorly then maybe that hot-seat talk is more applicable for McElwain next year. I could definitely see him facing pressure to make a move at offensive coordinator if Nussmeier can’t significantly turn things around.
But it would take an unlikely worst-case scenario — Gators missing a bowl game, recruits de-committing, booster support waning — for any thought of a head-coaching change this offseason.
Micah V. asks … “Do you think Malik Davis should get the starting RB position?”
I’m OK with Lamical Perine remaining as the starter, but I definitely think the Gators need to expand Davis’ role. Perine showed a lot last season and has earned the opportunity he’s getting this fall. He was productive last week in averaging 5.0 yards per carry on his 11 touches. The fumble didn’t help, but Davis also fumbled.
I really like Davis and think he adds a much-needed dynamic to the offense, though. Four carries isn’t nearly enough. I think he needs at least 10 touches, maybe an even split with Perine with Mark Thompson getting the lesser share of the load.
Otis M. asks … “When do you think they will let Franks go and throw the ball?”
It can’t come soon enough. Again, this offense will never take the next step as long as it remains so conservative.
Franks doesn’t need to be hurling 60-yard bombs every series, but he does need more chances to take shots 20 or 30 yards downfield. Maybe some of that is on him. McElwain noted that the young quarterback missed his read on six plays last week. But most of it is on Nussmeier to be more aggressive. Not only does he have plus arm strength, but Franks has shown really good touch when given the chance to throw downfield.
This week is as good as any to open up things. Kentucky ranks 107th nationally against the pass, giving up 289.7 yards per game through the air. Southern Miss and South Carolina both threw for at least 300 yards against the Wildcats.
This is the week to see what Franks can do.
Jeremy M. asks … “Will we see [Adarius] Lemons this year? No need to redshirt a RB.”
Probably not. Florida doesn’t need four active running backs. If Jordan Scarlett comes back at any point, there’s definitely no need to get Lemons involved. And if he doesn’t, I think it takes an injury to Perine, Davis or Thompson to change his status.
Dan T. asks … “Honest opinion about Callaway and Scarlett’s chances of playing this season?”
I’d be surprised if Callaway plays again this season. With all the strikes on his record already, and the report out there about where this credit card fraud investigation might be heading, I would have to guess that he doesn’t return to the team this season.
I think Scarlett has a little more hope, but even in a best-case scenario he won’t be on the field again anytime soon. The police investigation is ongoing. Once that is completed, then the state attorney has to review the case and determine what charges, if any, should be made. That could take weeks as well.
And remember, the suspended players haven’t been with the team, haven’t been practicing. If permitted to return, they would have to catch up in practice before being given any significant role on Saturdays.