Jim McElwain knew it was coming. Tyrie Cleveland knew it was coming. Feleipe Franks knew it was coming. No, not the thrilling touchdown pass in the final play that carried the Florida over Tennessee on Saturday, but an explosive play of any kind.
That’s been the goal for McElwain since before the season. Since before he came to Gainesville. To revive an offense that has been dormant since Tim Tebow was under center and Urban Meyer patrolled the sideline. Since then, it’s seemed like the offense’s role has been to avoid messing up while the defense carries the team.
But McElwain and his Gators finally got one of those plays when Franks heaved a 63-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Cleveland to conclude the win over the Volunteers, and McElwain said there could be more of that coming.
“Sometimes in life, it’s not about being afraid to be wrong, but rather, think what it is to be right. And we just wait to shoot ourselves,” he said of trying to make plays rather than not screw up. “And [we’re] afraid to make a mistake instead of just cutting it loose and going.”
Franks’ toss at the end, he added, was a break from that. And by doing more of it, he thinks the offense will regain competence. So using that play as a springboard, the Gators, who moved up to No. 20 in this week’s AP poll, are hoping for more big plays heading into a showdown against undefeated Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) in Lexington.
“Hopefully he starts the game that way next week,” McElwain said of Franks. “That’s what we’ve gotta do.”
Franks is hoping his coach is right.
“I think that it’s a really big game for the players,” he said, “with the confidence going into next week on the road.”
But this isn’t the first time McElwain has made offensive waves. Just under two years ago, it was thought his offense had “arrived” when, led by quarterback Will Grier, Florida hung 38 points on then-No. 3 Ole Miss.
Grier was suspended before the next game, and Florida’s offense hasn’t looked competent since. Even in the win over UT, the Gators couldn’t reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. But as McElwain pointed out, there were some positive signs that were ruined by what should be correctable screw-ups.
There was Malik Davis’ 72-yard run where he fumbled at the 2-yard line. There was Lamical Perine’s 21-yard run to open the second half that also ended in a fumble. There was a promising opening drive stalled by penalties. Etc.
If those lapses can be corrected, McElwain said, then the offense should be able to compete. It showed it has the pieces to do so, led by Cleveland and true freshman wideout Kadarius Toney, who showcased his juking skills on multiple plays.
“There’s something that’s pretty cool about having a human joystick out there,” McElwain said.
Looking ahead to Kentucky and beyond, he’s hoping that whether it’s Cleveland, Toney, Franks or someone else, the offense can play relaxed and finally win some games.
“I think we got a lot of confidence coming off of this win,” Cleveland said. “I feel like we’re going to come out against Kentucky next week and just leave it all on the field.”