Snell’s Slant: Florida is exceeding expectations again, and this time it feels real

By Shannon Snell
October 9, 2018
Snell’s Slant: Florida is exceeding expectations again, and this time it feels real

Florida Gators football is officially back. Dan Mullen and company are the hottest thing going in The Swamp since Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” graced us a year ago, and why shouldn’t they be? For all the preseason predictions, everyone — probably myself included — had the Gators finishing somewhere in the mid-tier in the SEC East. Fast forward a couple months and Florida finds itself tied for second in the division, surprisingly with Kentucky, the only team to beat UF this season.

It’s weird how things play out. Think about it: Who expected Florida to be this good so soon? I certainly did not. But that’s why the game is not played on paper. Coming off the heels of one of the biggest wins in the last few years over then-No. 5 LSU, Florida should be more confident than ever.

While the defense should be credited with the huge turnaround, the biggest improvement has come in the play and decision making of quarterback Felipe Franks. Say what you will, but Franks is the main reason why Florida is 5-1 right now. And why is that? Two words for you: Dan Mullen.

It’s amazing what great coaching can do. For anyone that has asked, I thought Franks got a raw deal the last few years. We can all agree that the previous regime checked out last year before the season’s end, and I believe that Franks was the guy that was hurt the most by it. We all thought he was a bust and not exactly what we expected coming out of high school. However, he has been more than enjoyable to watch this season.

Minus Will Grier’s half-season under center back in 2015, the Gators have not had very much success at the QB position for the better part of half a decade. I’m not saying that every one of Franks’ throws has been on the money or that every decision that he’s made has been good, but there should be little argument on the fact that he’s Florida’s best quarterback and truly makes this team competitive.

Here’s the best news: Franks is only in Year 1 of a brand new offense under a brand new set of coaches. If he’s done this well so far, he really has an opportunity to set the bar much higher for himself moving forward.

One of the biggest areas of concern after last year was the offensive line. After all, the 2017 preseason hype had them as a top unit and the were really supposed to be the strength of that team. There were a ton of injuries, and as a whole, the entire unit underperformed. Beyond that, I was still optimistic that this year’s line could do really good things, especially in Mullen’s offense.

I must admit, things started off rocky. Missed assignments, poor pad level and confusion was all I saw the first two weeks of the season. As much as I wanted to bitch and complain just like everyone else, I had to remind myself why I should hold off. Think about it like this: For the offensive line to be successful on any given play, all five guys must do their job correctly. If one guy messes up, it could result in a sack or lost yardage play, which looks bad on the entire line.

If a wide receiver misses a block or doesn’t run a route correctly, generally it will not hurt the team. Most of the time, it doesn’t get noticed until they are sitting in film session with their position coach the following Monday. If a running back doesn’t hit the right hole and a potential 20-yard gain turns into a 4-yard gain, a lot of times that gets missed in the moment.

The motto for the offensive line has always been: five blocking as one. What I’ve seen the last four weeks is the line is becoming a good unit. There should be little argument that the pass protection has been solid and a huge reason why Franks has been as successful as he has to this point. The running game took some time to adjust as well. While the first couple of weeks looked really rough, things have gotten significantly better. Rushing for 200+ yards against a good LSU front is no easy task, and it just goes to show you that good coaching changes the narratives.

So, what now? Well, I’d like to hope history doesn’t repeat itself. I can remember back three years ago after Florida beat a good Ole Miss team and had a ton of momentum before losing the last three games of the season to Florida State, Alabama, and Michigan. This team is a lot more mature than that 2015 team, and clearly I think the staff is much better equipped to handle some of the higher-profile games coming up.

But if there is ever a definition of “trap game,” it would be the week at Vanderbilt. Flashback once again after that huge upset against the Rebels, the Gators came out flat and uninspired against an overmatched Commodores team and barely won.

We talk about narratives and changing the culture, well, that narrative no longer has Florida as the underdog. The Gators are now officially the hunted, and the true question is how they will handle success going forward. With the big win over LSU, these players have every media member, student, faculty and staff boosting their egos.

How will they handle that? Can they handle that? This team has the opportunity to do something special in a season where almost nothing but marginal improvement was expected. Success is funny like that. It can be your best friend, and in other cases — hopefully not this weekend — it can also be your worst enemy.


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