By the time you read this, Florida may have decided on a starting quarterback. But you may not know who.
Interim coach Randy Shannon spoke with reporters Wednesday morning and said the plan is to decide between redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and graduate transfer Malik Zaire sometime late Wednesday or early Thursday. Shannon won’t be speaking again until after Florida’s game on Saturday against Missouri, but he also said he won’t wait to announce the starter until Saturday. So it’s unclear how, but it looks like fans will know soon.
The delayed announcement could be strategic. Having to plan for the mobile Zaire and the strong-armed Franks could take up some extra time in practice for the Tigers. But it’s definitely part of Shannon’s plan to shake things up in his short time as Florida’s head coach.
“You never know what coach Shannon's thinking or what he's gonna do,” cornerback Duke Dawson said. “He keeps us on our toes, so we don't know."
Franks is the incumbent. He’s started all but one game this season, including the last three in a row. His passing yards per game (119) is the second-worst average among SEC starters, trailing only Arkansas’ Cole Kelley. Zaire, meanwhile, is a bit of an unknown. He’s played twice this year, both in games where Florida had very low chances of coming back. He displayed some mobility both times, but he also showed some passing misfires. His completion percentage of 52 trails Franks’ (60).
Shannon is optimistic one of them will step up, but he’s also pleased with what he’s seen the competition bring out in both of them.
“You see those guys compete, talking and communicating,” he said. “The best thing about it is when you compete every day, it brings the best out of you.”
Franks and Zaire have been rotating to get equal reps with the first-team offense, with each getting a chance to showcase his strengths. What are those strengths? Don’t ask Shannon.
"I really don't know,” he said. “Both of them do some good things. Both of them have won games in the past, so we just have to go and keep competing in practice. Then once that happens, then we can figure out what we're going to do.”
Regardless of who wins the job, Shannon said a plan will be crafted for that player. He doesn’t want to try and fit Franks or Zaire into plays they’re no comfortable with. But for now, he’s trying to make them both uncomfortable. To bring out the best in them. And he thinks it’s working.
“I think both of the guys are not in the comfort zone,” he said, “but they’re not in the fearful zone.”
-- Malik Davis, Florida’s leading rusher, was lost for the year in his team’s 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday. Shannon was adamant about filling the hole he left behind, and he called out one person to do so.
“It's time for Mark Thompson to step up,” he said. “He's a senior. He's a guy that's [6-foot-2], 240, runs 4.4. It's his opportunity to come in and play.”
Thompson was rated the No. 1 junior college running back in the nation a year ago when he arrived in Gainesville, but he hasn’t done much since. He currently ranks third on the team in rushing behind Davis (526) and sophomore Lamical Perine (365) with 119 yards. But with the vacuum Davis left behind, he’s excited to get his chance.
“Whenever my number is called,” he said, “I’ll be ready to play and ready to produce and ready to just play ball.”
-- Shannon said the team’s leading receiver, sophomore Tyrie Cleveland, has been “bouncing around” in practice this week and looks fully recovered from a high ankle sprain that limited him to one catch in UF’s last three games.