There’s no love lost between defenses and quarterbacks.
But when the man under center famously wore orange and blue for four years, watching him run another team’s offense is atypical.
He won the Peach Bowl with Florida two years ago, helping bring the program back to the national landscape. He transferred to Arkansas in the offseason after suffering a season-ending injury against Kentucky on Sept. 14, 2019. Kyle Trask replaced him, and the rest is history. Saturday, former Gator now-turned Razorback Feleipe Franks returns to Gainesville.
“Obviously it’s tough,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said. “I’m happy for how it’s working out for him. But I want to go compete. I want to beat his butt on Saturday. That’s what we want to do. That’s what competitors do.”
Franks didn’t leave with ill will; his return isn’t packaged with the same ire Brock Berlin received almost two decades ago.
“Every game that you play, there’s guys with friends that they’re playing against or guys that you competed against or guys you know,” Mullen said. “This one’s probably different because it’s a guy that was your teammate for quite a long time.”
Mullen believes Franks’ legacy at Florida as one that can’t be ignored.
“I think before we got here and everything he had a rough go of it, with the fan base, with everything going on,” Mullen said. “(He) came in and took a bad situation and turned it into a really good one and helped build a foundation and put Florida back to where everyone expects Florida to be as a top-10, national program.”
Franks likes his new home: After all, Mullen said the transfer boiled down to playing time. Had he stayed in Gainesville, it’s not likely he would have held his role after Trask flourished as his replacement last year and dominated this season.
Arkansas was expected to go winless this season, but Franks’ 1,602 total yards and 14 passing touchdowns have helped lift the Razorbacks to a 3-3 record.
“These guys had my back every game throughout the season making plays for me,” Franks told Arkansas media after beating Tennessee 24-13 last week. “That’s all I can ask for.”
Mullen’s not surprised. After all, few know Franks’ potential better, just like few are more versed in Florida’s offense than someone who starred within it. But that’s not to say both sides have an advantage over the other.
“It's a different system, different scheme, different players around him,” Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “In the National Football League, guys change teams quite a bit; you kind of see this.”
Quarterbacks are insulated from their defenses in practice, as no coach in their right mind would risk their starting passer get their lights knocked out knowing they’ll have to be out on the field that weekend.
So what’s in store when past and present collide Saturday evening?
“If the opportunity presents itself, I ain't gonna let up on nobody,” redshirt junior linebacker James Houston said. “Everybody the same when they put that helmet on."
Grantham said Franks’ combination of size, speed and throwing ability would present constant challenges. But now, Grantham’s defense is free of its fetters.
“It’s fun hitting someone that you couldn’t lay a finger on for four years,” Houston said.
Don’t expect a silent night, either.
“He definitely had his little chirping battles with the defense over whether he would run somebody over on a certain play or not,” Houston said playfully. “Saturday, we’re going to really get to definitely see if he’s about that or we about that.”
The “Heave to Cleve” is one of redshirt junior running back Malik Davis’ many favorite memories of Franks. So when Franks announced his transfer, it was hard on Davis because of the void left behind.
“He was a great teammate and a great brother,” Davis said.
Davis, still, is delighted to see his former teammate’s success this season.
“I feel like it was just a good fit and that he made a great decision,” Davis said. “Sometimes, that's just how things work out.”
No crystal ball could predict the season Florida and Franks have had so far. But this fated contest will be one to remember.
Contact Christian Ortega at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.