GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks walked into his American History class Monday and was handed a trophy, an award professor Steve Noll gives to students for asking really good questions.
Franks got it for delivering the ultimate answer — against Tennessee.
Franks heaved a 63-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired Saturday, giving Florida a 26-20 victory over the Volunteers. The redshirt freshman spent the last two days getting praised for a play that will go down in program lore. He was congratulated walking across campus and even got a few “awkward” stares.
Noll’s presentation topped them all.
“He just gave me the trophy out of nowhere to start the class and told me good throw,” Franks said. “That’s kind of how class started.”
Frank’s throw helped mask another poor offensive showing by the Gators (1-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), who play at Kentucky (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday.
Florida managed 380 yards against the Vols, but 135 of those came on two fourth-quarter plays. Otherwise, the Gators found no offensive flow, made several mistakes and helped cough up the lead in the closing minutes.
Franks completed 18 of 28 passes for 212 yards in his second career start , with two touchdowns and an interception. But the offensive problems were hardly on the signal caller. The interception, which set up Tennessee’s game-tying field goal late, bounced off the hands of tight end C’yontai Lewis. The two sacks came after running backs failed to pick up blitzes. And offensive penalties proved costly.
So Franks could use better play around him. Still, Florida believes the offense is making strides.
Cleveland is showing potential to be a No. 1 receiver, especially with the uncertainty surrounding troubled standout Antonio Callaway. Cleveland has nine receptions for 149 yards and the memorable score that set off a raucous celebration.
“He’s learned how to practice,” coach Jim McElwain said. “By learning how to practice, then that becomes confidence in games.”
Two freshmen also flashed against Tennessee.
Quarterback-turned-receiver Kadarius Toney made several defenders miss, and running back Malik Davis had a game-breaking run in the fourth that likely would have sealed the victory had he not fumbled near the goal line.
Toney finished with four catches for 40 yards and left just about everyone in the stands and on the sideline wanting more.
“He’s so shaky,” linebacker David Reese said. “As you can see, he’s like a little joystick out there. He’s slippery, (making) people slip and slide on the field. He brings excitement to the game. When he gets the ball, it’s just a nail-biter every time he gets it.”
McElwain made it clear that coaches need to keep things simple for Toney, who played quarterback in the spring and switched position to open fall practice in early August.
“You overload guys and then they paralyze themselves,” McElwain said.
Davis ran four times for 94 yards, helping fill the void of starting running back Jordan Scarlett. Scarlett and Callaway are among the nine players suspended indefinitely for alleged credit card fraud.
Davis is now Florida’s leading rusher in 2017.
“He brings a little juice, there’s no doubt,” McElwain said. “He’s a little bit different. He’s a slasher. He does a really good job of sticking his foot in the ground and running through inside arm tackles. … With a lot of these young guys, expanding their roles as they continue to learn.”
Still, Franks is the key.
Florida has been searching for some consistency at the quarterback position since Tim Tebow’s senior season in 2009.
McElwain said Franks made six “critical” errors against Tennessee, adding that the number needs to drop to three at Kentucky and then two the following week against Vanderbilt and eventually down to none later this season.
“When you start to do that, you’re going to have a pretty good deal going,” McElwain said.
And maybe more accolades — and a few more stares — for Franks.
“You want to keep a level head,” Franks said. “Especially at the quarterback position, you never want to be too high or too low if things aren’t going your way because that’s part of the game. … I think we enjoyed the win. It’s over now and we’re going to prepare for next week.”
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