GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After seven games of biding his time at Florida, Malik Zaire is finally getting his opportunity.
The graduate transfer from Notre Dame on Thursday was named the Gators’ starting quarterback for its road game against Missouri on Saturday, taking over for redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks.
On the Gators’ weekly radio show Thursday, Florida interim coach Randy Shannon said he adjusted the approach in practice so that each quarterback was taking reps in packages that played to his strengths.
“Whichever one executed the plan for what is their strength, that’s the one that we went with,” Shannon said. “Malik did a great job, and we went to his strength of what he can do. The things that he can do brings a lot to the table.”
This will be Zaire’s first chance to start for the Gators since he transferred to Florida over the summer as a benefactor of the SEC’s decision this spring to amend its rule on grad transfers. However, after falling behind the depth chart following fall camp, his only chances to play thus far came late in two blowout losses — the 33-17 season opener to Michigan and the 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday. In those brief appearances, Zaire completed 12 of 23 passes for 142 yards.
Zaire led the Gators to their lone scoring drive against the Bulldogs on Saturday, orchestrating a 9-play, 71-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown by Mark Thompson against Georgia’s reserves. It preserved the Gators’ nation-leading 368-game scoring streak. On that drive, Zaire completed 3 of his 4 attempts for 36 yards and had 2 carries for 30 yards.
And it’s not like Florida’s passing game could get worse after the way October played out.
During the Gators’ three-game losing streak — a 17-16 loss to LSU, 19-17 loss to Texas A&M and 42-7 loss to Georgia — Franks recorded just 273 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions while being sacked 15 times. Against Georgia on Saturday, Franks completed 7 of 19 passes for 30 yards and an interception before being benched for Zaire.
Florida’s passing offense is 111th in the country and on pace for its worst finish since 2012 (118th).
Maybe Zaire can provide enough of a spark to change that. With just three-career starts, his sample size at Notre Dame is small. But Zaire put up impressive numbers in the 2014 Music Bowl while splitting reps (96 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-15 passing, 96 rushing yards and a touchdown) and the 2015 season opener against Texas (313 yards and 3 touchdowns on 19-of-22 passing).
Saturday will be the first chance to see how — or if — that success will translate to his time at Florida.
“He’s prepared,” Shannon said. “You always have to be on top of what you’re doing and on top of your game every time you play football. … This is his chance to step up and represent the Florida Gators.”
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