GAINESVILLE -- When Frankie Hammond caught a short pass from Jeff Driskel against Tennessee on Saturday, turning it up field and knifing through the defense for a 75-yard touchdown and the game-winning score, Florida’s struggles at wide receiver seemed to fade as quickly as the Volunteers defenders trying to catch him.
Hammond, a Hallandale alum, has emerged as the 14th-ranked Gators’ best home-run threat on the outside with two touchdown catches of more than 50 yards this season and a yard-per-catch that ranks second nationally among players with at least four catches.
Hammond has never had more than 22 catches, 276 yards or two touchdowns in a season, but he’s matched that scoring total already and has six catches for 164 yards through three games. Thus begging a reporter on Monday to ask Hammond what’s different this year? Are you faster, Frankie?
“Not necessarily,” he said, laughing. “I wouldn’t say I’m faster this year. I got the ball in my hands and got a chance to extend plays. I just got an opportunity and took advantage of it. … I turned around and guys were getting downfield throwing blocks for me. I just ran for the green grass.”
The story was the same in Week 1, when Hammond snagged a short pass from Driskel, immediately beat the Bowling Green cornerback and scored from 50 yards out. For Florida and sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, Hammond’s production couldn’t have come at a better time.
Driskel is still adjusting to life as a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, and knowing he has a dependable receiver on the outside is paramount for the sophomore’s confidence. It’s also a welcome change from last year’s six-loss campaign, when the Gators failed to get much from the position and running back Chris Rainey was the team’s leading receiver.
Florida coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday that he “certainly” feels differently about the wide receivers from last season to this one and credited offensive coordinator Brent Pease for putting them in position to succeed.
“[I’ve] got a lot more confidence in playmaking ability and run after the catch, and things that they’re doing,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the production of, obviously, Frankie. … A lot of that’s credit to Brent from a standpoint of finding out what the guys can do and let’s do what they do well. He’s put guys in those situations to this point to make them very successful.”
Muschamp also mentioned redshirt sophomore Quinton Dunbar (Booker T. Washington), who leads the wide receivers with seven receptions for 73 yards, and tight ends Jordan Reed, Trey Burton and Omarius Hines.
There are certainly plenty of factors that have gone into the spike in production this season. A sound running game with Mike Gillislee has kept defenders honest, teammates have blocked effectively down field, players have credited Pease for getting them in position to succeed ,and Driskel has found them in those positions.
Still, the onus falls on the guy with the ball in his hand to make a play. And that’s exactly what Hammond has done.
“We just have to get the ball out there, get the ball in our hands and we’ll do the rest,” he said. “The playmakers out there just have to get our opportunities and take advantage of them.”
Whether Hammond has changed is still up for debate, but what he has brought to the offense is not.
“He’s a playmaker,” cornerback Louchiez Purifoy said. “Last year, we couldn’t find one. But now, he’s a playmaker.”