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Scouting Florida’s quarterbacks: Who’s the biggest threat to U-M’s defense?

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Florida has yet to announce a starting quarterback. What would each mean for the Wolverines?

NCAA Football: Florida Spring Game Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the week leading up to college football’s real opening weekend, no game has yet presented the off-field circus of Florida-Michigan. With two eccentric coaches who both have shown a penchant for toying with the media, this game has had all the shenanigans one might expect. One might say, there’s been more street talkin’ than Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Neither team has named a starting QB (though no one really buys this for Michigan), the Gators have suspended roughly half of their offense… and no one is even sure who is on Michigan’s roster. And none of this even touches on the possibility that Florida coach Jim McElwain might’ve canoodled with a shark.

Since we’ve already touched on the Florida suspensions, and our fantastic team of writers have probably touched on every possible iteration of Michigan’s roster, I wanted to take a moment to go through Florida’s three possible starting quarterbacks for Saturday and talk about what they do best and what Michigan will be forced to do to stop them. We’ll go in order of “threat posed”.

1) Malik Zaire – Graduate Transfer, Senior

To me, it’s a no-brainer that Malik Zaire is the best quarterback on Florida’s roster and if utilized properly (spoiler alert, the same guy who was calling plays for Brady Hoke’s final season still runs Florida’s offense), could probably be a top 2-3 signal caller in the SEC.

As you’ll see in the video posted above, Zaire primarily brings two factors that will require extra attention. First, he’s a lefty so the offense will be running “backwards”. While this may not seem like a lot, for game-planning purposes, this is huge. All your blitzes to force a QB one way are no reversed. The primarily targeted side of the field is likely to switch. In addition to this, Zaire is lightning quick.

There are two runs from this film that really jump out at me. At 00:50 and 2:20, Zaire is at his best. Look at the way he effectively uses his vision combined with a lethal jump cut to get through the hole. The second run, before running out of bounds, you see him run through an arm tackle from a defensive back. At around 230 and only 6’0 tall, Zaire is a bit of a bowling ball and a young secondary cannot lose sight of this.

There isn’t a lot of film on Zaire as a passer and for the LSU game, he was used primarily to throw screens and slants. He has a big arm and quick release (though it’s low), so that will be something to watch out for. You need to go back to his start against Texas to begin the 2015 season to really appreciate what a locked-in Malik Zaire can do as a passer.

At the 00:15 mark, Zaire delivers a strike over the middle to Will Fuller for a touchdown. While he has this ability, I don’t see Michigan needing to be worried too greatly on account of two things

1. Florida doesn’t have a receiver as good as Will Fuller with Callaway suspended

2. Doug Nussmeier for both Michigan and Florida over the last few years has shown a complete inability to attack the middle of the field.

At 1:45, you see Zaire hit a wide open Fuller down the sideline for a long score. This is a route that Michigan needs to look out for. Nussmeier likes to run a lot of go-routes with his outside receiver, and he’ll also throw the long-wheel to his running backs. Tyrie Cleveland for Florida is one of the fastest receivers in the country and can go the distance at any time. While it’ll be tempting to press up and take the underneath away, staying home on these long routes is imperative for Michigan.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The final Zaire TD at about 2:20 again shows his quick release and ability to excel on the slant routes. I can’t stress this enough, these short passes are going to be key. Florida’s offense is incredibly unimaginative (we saw the same offense in 2014), and they will go back to these slants and the flat-routes over and over again.

What does all this mean for Michigan? Who is going to need to step up? Glad you asked, let’s talk about it.

First and foremost, Lavert Hill, David Long, Ambry Thomas and whoever else gets big minutes at corner will need to be ready to play aggressive. Florida’s receivers are small and fast, but they play in an offense that wants to get them the ball near the line of scrimmage more so than down field. The routes Florida will throw predominantly to are going to require sound tackling more than anything else. I don’t see the safeties being tested much.

Photo credit: Dustin Johnston, Maize n Brew

Hudson and McCray will have the toughest jobs inside the hashes. Much like how those two (well, Jabril Peppers instead of Hudson) were constantly around JT Barrett and Curtis Samuel last year, they’ll be required to keep an eye out for Zaire and slot receiver Brandon Powell. You could even see one shade running back Jordan Scarlett. If McCray matches his effort from Columbus, everything around him will become easier.

Of course you’d prefer the DLINE to make the quarterback’s life hell, and Michigan’s has a good shot of doing that, but Zaire is the type of athlete that you need multiple athletes to corral. Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary may be able to give chase, but you’re going to need the Hudson’s and McCray’s of the defense to clean up after them, to stop Zaire from turning a 2-yard scramble into a 20-yard scramble.

2) Felipe Franks - Redshirt Freshman

Franks is an enigma within Florida circles. Some see a mountain of talent waiting to be unleashed. Others see a kid with all the tools who still has not distanced himself from players fans know to be mediocre or worse. Before Zaire’s transfer, 2017 was primed to be Felipe Franks’ year. He was solid in the spring game and had distanced himself from the other competitors.

Franks is a good, not great athlete who can make a few plays on the ground, but he’s not going to break the game open. What he has though is a bazooka arm. The ball explodes off Franks’ hand, and he’s getting better at the long-ball as evidenced by the throw at the 00:09 mark of the linked video. Again, a receiver like the previously mentioned Tyrie Cleveland could get loose here.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two other throws that tickle the imagination are at the 00:38 and 1:00 marks. On both throws, Franks shows solid movement stepping up into the pocket and delivering perfectly thrown balls to receivers in motion.

What makes Franks such a wild card is that this is really the only footage of him. He has some high school highlights and a 2016 spring game to forget. But by all accounts, he’s significantly better now than then.

He only threw 14 passes in the spring game, but there are 4-6 that really pop off and only a couple cringe-worthy ones. The arm talent is clearly there, but there are more than a few holes that Michigan can exploit.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

While Zaire liked to spread the field wide through the air and on the ground, Franks possesses a more old-school vertical game. He was hitting drags and seems more comfortably and seemed less interested in the sidelines. This means increased responsibility for the safeties. While Nussmeier hasn’t shown a consistent ability to attack the deep middle, tight end Deandre Goolsby is the type of weapon that could give Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel problems. Hudson will likely see a lot of time on him as well as Florida likes to get him involved in some shorter stuff.

Rashan Gary, Bryan Mone, and Maurice Hurst (health pending) are going to have to step up if Franks is the starter. Pressure in his face, getting hands up, making a lanky quarterback uncomfortable would go a long way in Michigan winning this one.

Where I can see Michigan really attacking Franks is his somewhat mechanical game. He’s not going to make decisions as quick as Luke Del Rio or Malik Zaire, and has a hitch in his delivery that could slow his release. Look for Don Brown to try to confuse the young kid and throw all kinds of looks at him.

3) Luke Del Rio – Roughly 30-year-old Junior

Luke Del Rio poses no threat to Michigan, but for the sake of argument, let’s discuss the things he does well that could at least give the Gators some hope:

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... and that’s a pretty exhaustive list.

While Florida has talent, particularly along the offensive line and linebacking cores, this is a young team that lacks consistent playmakers and an identity. While Zaire could give Michigan headaches for a time, I think eventually the Wolverines would wear him down. With Franks, it’s hard to see him figuring out a Don Brown defense and thriving against it. Del Rio stinks and there’s all there is to that.

It shouldn’t matter who the Florida quarterback is, the Michigan defense needs to come out, set the tone, and dictate the terms of this engagement.