Mississippi State is poised to give their old captain a warm welcome back to Davis-Wade Stadium this Saturday as Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators come into Starkville for the first time since 2009. Here’s the breakdown of Mullen’s offensive staff and their achievements so far in the young 2018 season.
Felipe Franks is the trigger man for the Gators, and the sophomore hopes to end a long narrative of quarterback ineptitude that has plagued Florida since the departure of perhaps the greatest college football player to ever lace up a pair of cleats, Tim Tebow. Franks isn’t Tebow-esque by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s been productive within the Dan Mullen offense that State fans have long since gotten to know and love (hate?). Franks has started every game for UF so far, and he has 13 touchdown passes to show for it. Five of those are against Charleston Southern (to put that into perspective, if you were to give the 5 opening week TD’s against an FCS opponent to MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald instead of Keytaon Thompson, he’d be right on pace with 11). The Gator signal caller throws for an average of 185.5 YPG, with 2 interceptions to go with his 13 aerial scores. His adjusted QBR over four games barely breaks the half-century mark at 52.9, but an outlier game vs Colorado State where he registered just an 8.6 total QBR is bringing that rating down somewhat. Watching his games, his skill set may sound familiar to Bulldog fans. Franks is a guy with tremendous strength and arm talent whose accuracy is come-and-go. He’s completing 52.6% of his passes in 2018, but anybody who saw the final play against Tennessee last year knows that Franks can sling a football a good ways. We know how much Dan loves to use his quarterback’s legs nearly as much as his arm, but Franks isn’t getting the big yards on the ground we came to expect from Tebow, Dak Prescott, or Fitzgerald. Through 4 games, Franks has 114 yards rushing on just 32 attempts.
The Gators are averaging an impressive 41 points per game this season, but they’ve only managed to put up 16 points at home against the best team they’ve faced. Their offense is difficult to dissect, because three games against Tennessee, Charleston Southern, and Colorado State aren’t exactly great measuring sticks of a teams’ abilities. The UK game was so vastly different offensively from the other three that it could almost be considered an outlier, except for the fact that it makes up 23% of their offensive plays and cannot be discounted so heavily. Florida as a whole is a rush-first attack, with 131 rushing attempts to 99 pass attempts as an offense (57% run). The halfback duties have been undertaken by a host of Gators, chief amongst which is Junior starter, Jordan Scarlett. However, Scarlett has only led Florida in rushing once this season as a starter. In fact, the Dan Mullen’s Gators are yet to field a single-game-100-yard rusher and are averaging 189.0 rushing yards per game. Florida has given up a total of 6 sacks in 4 games this year. Like MSU, Florida really spreads the ball around in the passing game. It is rare for any one guy to catch more than three passes a game. Their receiving corps includes speedster Tyrie Cleveland and Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson, who are undeniably talented. A noticeable trend amongst these numbers is that none are spectacular, but all are respectable. Nobody jumps off the stat sheet for UF, and the team as a whole doesn’t do anything particularly well, but their glaring weaknesses don’t show up much either. Against three lesser opponents, Florida has flexed its muscles a little bit, but they’re yet to be tested on the road. The common opponent in Kentucky sheds some light on the matchup, but the rampant penalties and outbursts from MSU against UK almost compel one to take that sample with a grain of salt. If anything, the home game for UF and road game for MSU against Kentucky are at least somewhat comparable, which means this matchup could be a close one for Joe Moorhead’s Bulldogs. Keeping everything in mind that occurred last week, and eating a little crow over my last scoring prediction, I expect Mississippi State to win 31-21 in Davis-Wade Saturday night.