As Florida fans watched the Gators’ spring game, a spark of hope was ignited as the offense showed flashes of excitement and fun. It was just a spring game, yes, but those same fans have sat and watched an offense that has sputtered season after season.
The last time Florida’s offense ranked in the top 50 in either scoring or total yards was in 2010, when Urban Meyer was the coach. In fact, Florida’s average ranking among FBS programs from 2011 to 2017 in each category was 90th and 107th.
Those numbers are, in large part, why Dan Mullen is now the coach. The last time Mullen was on the Gators’ sideline, for the 2008 season, Florida’s offense ranked fourth in scoring and 15th in total yards. Mullen is now hoping to revive a stagnant offense. And he has brought some familiar faces to help him.
Chief among them is quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who played for Mullen at Utah and coached with Mullen at Mississippi State from 2014 to 2016. Johnson, along with the other offensive coaches, has the daunting task of bringing life to a position group that has had immense struggles for quite a few seasons.
“I think the biggest thing is just setting an expectation from the very beginning,” Johnson said. “From the position, setting the expectation and whatever happened in the past is over. You have an opportunity to start from scratch, learn the system and develop from the system so you can perform at a high level.”
There are three quarterbacks on the roster -- Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Emory Jones. Jones is only a freshman, and Trask is yet to see game action. That leaves Franks as the only one who has played a down of college football.
Jones was added to the 2018 recruiting class late in the process, after Mullen and his staff were hired, and there wasn’t much film on the other two quarterbacks for Johnson and the coaches to find out what they really had before spring ball started.
“We were swamped with recruiting when we first got here, so any free moment we had, we were trying to finish up that 2018 class,” Johnson said. “But I was able to go back and just watch all of the games, pull some clips of Kyle Trask before he got hurt. Watch those guys and see what they could do, what they were doing on offense and get a feel for the personnel going into it.”
Because the offensive coaches were familiar with each other at their stop at Mississippi State, installing the offense wasn’t a concern; it was just figuring out what the quarterbacks were capable of and how they would adjust to the new system.
Franks completed 54.6 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in what was an up-and-down season in 2017. His first season didn’t go as planned; and as Florida sputtered to a 4-7 record, naturally, that weighed on Franks mentally.
This restart was crucial for Franks and his confidence, and he has bought in completely to what the new staff is trying to implement in Gainesville.
“It’s on the right track, and these guys really know what they’re talking about,” Franks said. “Where to give guys freedom, with the playmakers we have, give them the freedom to get into space and make a play. They know how to get them open, and that’s one of the biggest things they’re doing for us is creating an offense within our offense and letting the playmakers go free.”
The full offense hasn’t been implemented yet, but Johnson is optimistic about what all three quarterbacks have done to study and stay ahead in the playbook. Franks and Trask seem to be ahead of Jones, but no starting quarterback has been named as of yet.
That’s not a concern for Johnson, as he believes reps are going to be the biggest help to each quarterback. As time goes on and the players get more and more familiar with the system, that’s when the real progress will be made.
“The beauty about our offensive staff is everybody has been together for such a long time, we kind of know the ins and outs of what we want to do in great detail,” Johnson said. “Being around each other, some of the stuff we have in is some of the stuff we had in my freshman year at Utah. For the most part, the install has been seamless, and we understand what the potential problems are and what the potential questions will be.”
That familiarity has Florida fans optimistic, as well, and hoping that Mullen can recreate some of the magic they saw when he was the offensive coordinator under Meyer -- or even some of the success this staff saw at Mississippi State.
The fans got their first real look at what this offense is moving toward, but the players have been seeing the progression since the staff arrived on campus. The staff and the players are hoping that history repeats itself and this offense gets back toward the top of the rankings.
“Coach Johnson told me there’s going to be slumps in practice when you learn a new offense, but when you get over the slump, you’re going to go straight up,” Franks said. “Once the offense gains confidence in its coaches, it goes straight up from there. It’s a process that other people don’t see of the coaches trusting the players, the players trusting the offense and the quarterback trusting himself, and we’re on the right track.”