FAYETTEVILLE – A mobile quarterback always adorns Sam Pittman’s Arkansas wish list.
Turns out first-year Arkansas Pittman fulfilled this season even if strong-armed 6-6 via Florida Gators graduate transfer Feleipe Franks maybe didn’t fit what’s perceived as a running quarterback.
Franks fit now. He comes into the 2-3 Razorbacks’ Saturday night’s 6:30 SEC Network televised SEC game against the 2-3 Tennessee Volunteers at Reynolds Razorback Stadium after gaining 91 yards on 16 carries in last Saturday’s 42-31 loss at now nationally seventh-ranked Texas A&M.
So is Franks, living up to his passing reputation completing 105 of 159 for 1,213 yards with 11 touchdowns vs. three interceptions, surprising as an even better runner than Pittman and realized?
“No,” Pittman replied on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference. “We knew he could run when we recruited him. Obviously we had a lot of film from Florida. We just started using the quarterback a little more in the run game last week.”
Pittman explained why.
“We needed to,” Pittman said. “We needed to even up the numbers a little better in the box. We knew he was a tough kid and a very adequate runner. And he likes to. He’s tough. And so we added few plays for him last week.”
Tennessee Coach Jeremy Pruitt on Wednesday’s teleconference noted it wasn’t just the designed runs for Franks that were effective against Texas A&M but pass plays when either the protection broke down or nobody got open.
“The other night, they probably got lots of yardage on Feleipe just scrambling,” Pruitt said. “He probably scrambled for 50 yards. They’ve really done a nice job up front. Their wide receivers have blocked well on the perimeter.”
As Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2017 and Tennessee’s head coach since 2018, Pruitt twice previously game-planned against Franks quarterbacking the Gators. He likely would have again in 2019 except by then Franks had suffered his season-ending broken ankle. That injury prompted Franks transferring to Arkansas with Florida committed quarterback Kyle Trask.
“I thought he played well at Florida,” Pruitt said. “Two years in a row there, they won 10 games. I know he got hurt last year, but he’s come back and you can tell that he’s got experience and he’s making a lot of plays for them.”
Actually, Pruitt knew about Franks long before Franks was a Gator.
“Feleipe is a guy that I am very familiar with,” Pruitt said. “I started recruiting him when I coached at Florida State, and he was in the eighth or ninth grade. Very talented, multi-sport guy. Really a big man and a really good athlete. He has as strong an arm as anybody in our conference.”
Pittman said Franks impacted the Razorbacks immediately upon transferring in January and through the coronavirus disruption that shut down team workouts from mid-March into June.
“ He was elected as a captain when he came in during a covid situation and no spring ball,” Pittman said. “So there tells you that his leadership skills have been outstanding. I think more than anything it’s just been his leadership skills and the way the team looks at him and the way that he runs the offensive side of the football team, and he’s affected the defensive side. So we’ve been really fortunate that he elected to transfer to Arkansas.”
Franks isn’t the only Razorback that Pruitt tried to recruit. At Tennessee he sought from Warren Franks’ favorite target, Razorbacks sophomore receiver Treylon Burks.
Burks caught 29 passes for 475 yards in 11 games as a 2018 true freshman. This year in four games, missing one with injury, Burks from Franks has already caught 26 for 366 years and four touchdowns.
“I remember recruiting him out of high school and thought he had a chance to be a really good player possibly on either side of the ball,” Pruitt said. “I think he’s one of the best players in the conference. Just looking at him I see him improving every week. He’s a mismatch guy. Probably 230 pounds and runs like a guy that probably is a 4.4 guy. I think he’s one of the best players in our conference and has a chance to be a really, really good football player as years go by.”
The Razorbacks practiced Wednesday in full pads.