Transfer Malik Zaire will make first start of season for Gators
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will start its third quarterback of the season Saturday at Missouri.
Interim coach Randy Shannon announced Thursday that graduate transfer Malik Zaire will start against the Tigers (3-5, 0-4 Southeastern Conference), a game the Gators (3-4, 3-3) probably need to win to make a bowl.
Zaire replaces redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who was benched in three of six starts.
“This is his opportunity to get this team where it needs to be and not to be satisfied just because he’s the starter,” Shannon said in a statement. “Today is an opportunity for him to run the offense and understand the expectations that we have for him.
“This is not a time for him to feel comfortable and feel like he’s made it. We want him to keep grinding and understand that competition is very good.”
Zaire has played in two lopsided losses this season, completing 12 of 23 passes for 142 yards. He was sacked five times in the opener against Michigan but looked much more comfortable against Georgia’s backups last Saturday.
Former coach Jim McElwain and embattled offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier added Zaire to Florida’s quarterback room in June, an indication they weren’t completely satisfied with Franks and Luke Del Rio.
Franks has been mostly ineffective and was demoted for one game before Del Rio broke his left collarbone and had season-ending surgery. Franks has four touchdown passes and four interceptions, and has been sacked 19 times. Of his four TDs, one was a 63-yarder on the final play to beat Tennessee and another was to an uncovered receiver against Kentucky.
Shannon took over as interim coach Sunday and started shaking things up. Turning to Zaire is the latest move.
The Notre Dame graduate missed most of the 2015 season because of a broken ankle and lost his starting job to DeShone Kizer in the 2016 season opener. Zaire threw for 816 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons in South Bend, Indiana.
Zaire should be able to create more plays with his feel behind Florida’s shaky offensive line, which has allowed 25 sacks in seven games.
Zaire will be the 12th starting quarterback since Tim Tebow’s departure in 2010, and none of them has proven to be a long-term solution for the team’s long-standing problem. Florida ranks 112th in the nation in total offense, in triple digits for the third consecutive year.
Florida’s other starting QBs since Tebow: John Brantley, Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Trey Burton, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg, Will Grier, Treon Harris, Del Rio, Austin Appleby and Franks.