Welcome back to this week’s edition of the Opponent Q&A, which has us going through Florida’s season so far with Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army. Andy was kind enough to sit down and give us thoughtful answers to our burning questions, so let him help you brush up on what you need to know before kickoff.
Prodigal son Dan Mullen has returned, and the results so far have been somewhat mixed. How are Gator fans feeling about him and the program’s direction so far?
I think Florida fans are mostly bullish about Mullen, still, though the enormity of him taking a limited, unusually talent-poor roster to 6-1 has been somewhat eclipsed by the pain of losing back-to-back games in blowout fashion. Florida is already guaranteed to improve by at least two wins over last year’s disastrous campaign, and is likely to finish some dozens of spots ahead of where it was in S&P+, so I think most fans of both the more casual and more stat-minded stripes are satisfied at the moment.
Now, flailing to finish this year, by losing three or four of their past five games — especially that season-ender against Florida State? That would change a lot of opinions.
Tell us a little more about the quarterbacks situation. Obviously, Kyle Trask is out of the picture for now with that really unfortunate injury, but what’s the deal with Feleipe Franks? Is Emory Jones a threat to play at all this season?
I think Feleipe Franks is about as physically talented as quarterbacks get when it comes to throwing the ball. He has a strong arm and an easy throwing motion that allows him to make any and all throws, and any coach with him behind center to dream on all of those throws.
His cons, though, are many. He’s erratic at best, often overthrowing receivers and still dealing with a lot of the growing pains of being a young quarterback. While he’s far from slow, he’s also not a particularly decisive runner, which makes him a bit of a square peg in a round hole when it comes to the quarterback run concepts in Mullen’s offense. And he has developed a penchant for starting very slowly this year, which has helped hamstring Florida at home, where the Gators have been unable to feed off the crowd as they would for roaring starts. [Editor’s note: That sounds familiar.]
Emory Jones has played this year, but I think, barring injury to Franks, he’s likely to only play spot duties and in specialized packages until the bowl game, with Mullen waiting to do a fuller install of his offense over bowl practices. But that injury to Trask leaves no one between Franks and Jones in the pecking order, and Mullen spent part of this week noting that Florida’s offensive line hasn’t protected Franks perfectly, so ... yeah, who knows?
In light of the surprising Missouri loss, what concerns you the most about this game?
I’m most worried about Florida’s ability to cover South Carolina’s receivers, most notably Deebo Samuel, given how the Gators struggled to stop Missouri’s passing game last Saturday. The Gators have seemingly lost all ability to pressure the passer since the bye, and while Jake Bentley doesn’t scare me like Jake Fromm or (especially) Drew Lock did, he’s obviously capable of putting up numbers.
If he’s not fully healthy, like every other Gamecock appears to me to be, that fear is obviously mitigated a bit.
Conversely, what should Gamecock fans be worried about here?
Be afraid of Franks suddenly throwing for 400 yards on an emaciated secondary. Be very afraid!
Seriously, though, I think Florida’s running game is due for a big game after being neutralized by Georgia and Missouri, and I can’t imagine South Carolina scoring so many points as to be able to put the Gators in throw-or-lose situations until late. So watch out for Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine, I guess.
Finally, care to make a prediction?
I think Florida’s a significantly better team than South Carolina, and a healthier one, too, and Florida has turned similar opponents into chum this year. But I also think Florida’s having a weird enough month to start slow and turn what could be a comfortable win into a nailbiter. So I’ll split the difference: Give me the Gators by a 34-21 count.