Feleipe Franks was the talk of the town leading into Saturday’s Kentucky vs. Florida matchup in Lexington. Is he elite? Is he overrated? How does he matchup with Kentucky’s defense? How will his numbers look against those of Sawyer Smith?
Through the first three quarters, Kentucky got their answers. Smith made some mistakes, but overall, he was outplaying Florida’s starting quarterback.
Smith completed his first nine passes of the game – his first incompletion came with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Late in the third quarter, Kentucky held a 21-10 advantage over Florida. But on the final drive of that quarter, Franks went down with a leg injury after being tackled by UK defensive lineman Calvin Taylor. The Gators had failed on their fourth-down conversion, but a much larger problem was developing.
Kentucky players took a knee and fans offered applause while Franks was carted off the field. After the game, Florida Coach Dan Mullen told reporters Franks suffered a dislocated ankle and could miss the remainder of the season. It’s another heartbreaking injury inside Kroger Field, and one you never want to see happen to either sideline.
Feleipe Franks is expected to miss the remainder of the season after dislocating his ankle, Florida HC Dan Mullen says. https://t.co/gXRnuarcnt
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 15, 2019
In many ways, that was the turning point of the game. After Franks was taken to the locker room, Kyle Trask came in to lead Florida’s offense. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a team’s backup quarterback enters the game, following injury or an overall-poor performance by the starter, and quickly commands the game.
“We had a good feeling [of] what he was going to do,” Mark Stoops said of Trask after the game. “We knew he was going to throw it, and you know, he did a good job. Again, it’s a bad time for us to be short some of the secondary guys we were.”
Trask immediately led his team to a six-play, 62-yard touchdown drive following the starter’s injury. His first incompletion came on Florida’s failed two-point attempt. The Cats still led 21-16, but it was clear the momentum had started to shift. Trask’s passing looking impeccable, and Kentucky’s defense wasn’t keeping up with the backup. The Wildcats got rolling again on the next drive, and things were looking up with a big sack. That, of course, was called back when defensive end TJ Carter was ejected for targeting. The Cats were flustered and the crowd was angry. The Gators regained the lead three plays later, 22-21. You know the rest.
The “Battle of the Backups” is a tale as old as time, in Kentucky and otherwise. However, when you actually compare all of the QB numbers from Saturday night, they aren’t that different from one another.
Franks completed 12-of-17 passes (71 percent) for 174 yards; he had one touchdown and one interception. When Trask came in the game, he completed 9 of 13 passes (69 percent) for 126 yards. Combined, Florida’s quarterbacks went 21-30 (70 percent) for exactly 300 yards. Kentucky’s Smith finished the game 23 of 35 (66 percent) for 267 yards. Franks rushed eight times for a total of 27 yards; Smith held the ball nine times for 23 yards. Trask ran just once.
At the same time, what we’ve been hearing all week was proven true – at least for now. Smith can complete a pass, but he struggled with his decision making and reaction time. Florida scored their first touchdown off a Smith fumble; their next three points came from a field goal following an interception. The touchdown that sealed-the-deal came from a fourth-quarter pick.
It was Smith’s first career start for Kentucky, and it happened to align with the Cats’ game against No. 9 Florida. In the grand scheme of things, its probably best Kentucky faced the Gators this week, rather than an even more “must-win” game in the conference. A loss to Florida is a loss to Florida, but it’s hard to point the finger at Sawyer Smith. He certainly shouldn’t bear all of the blame.
Kentucky’s head coach was proud of the way his backup – is it time we stop referring to Smith as the backup? – matched up against tough competition.
“I thought he did some really good things. You know, there’s some plays that we could do over, and there’s some plays that the receivers can help him on, as well,” Mark Stoops said Saturday night. “It‘s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page. I think there’s a lot to build on there. I was proud of the way he went in and played and gave us an opportunity to win this game.”