Image Credit: UAA
It’s easy to go overboard with spring game performances, extrapolating them into expectations for the regular season. It is with that caveat in hand that Florida Gators redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio did not win the team’s starting quarterback job with his tremendous effort on Friday night, but he most certainly looked the part.
Del Rio drove the Gators right down the field on their first drive, moving the Blue team 75 yards in four plays for an early touchdown. He hit junior wide receiver C.J. Worton for 46 yards on the second play of the spring game and found junior tight end DeAndre Goolsby for a 14-yard touchdown to cap off the drive.
That’s just how Del Rio started. He finished 10-for-11, compiling 176 yards and two touchdowns on the evening against what was mostly a second-team defense for Florida. It was not so much Del Rio’s stat line that was impressive, though. It was his comfort in the pocket and ability to make the right throws at the right times.
Quarterbacking is difficult, but it can also be simple at times, as head coach Jim McElwain has pointed out on numerous occasions. Throw the ball to open guys in the same color jersey, take what the defense gives you and move on.
It’s amazing what happens when you throw it to the open guy. You get a pretty good stat line,” he joked initially.
McElwain later added: “I thought, early in spring, he was trying to press, trying to do things that are out of character on how he has to play to be successful. I thought today he really did a good job of sliding in the pocket, taking his eyes where he needed to based on the pressure. You know what? I thought it was pretty good.”
Asked of Del Rio ended the spring as QB1, McElwain relented that was probably the case. Of course, he added a caveat of his own right away: “I think so. And yet, it will be interesting.”
McElwain was also complimentary of graduate transfer Austin Appleby, who was almost mistake-free with his 80 yards on 8-for-11 passing while mostly leading the second-team Orange offense. Appleby earned some first downs that continued drives and resulted in field goals from redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro.
“The team moved and [Appleby] gave us an opportunity to get points. Over the summer, as I’ve kind of said, that’s really where your team is built. We’ll see where that leadership piece goes from there,” said McElwain.
What impressed McElwain most, as he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have mentioned previously, is how well all four quarterbacks have done learning the offense and working together in the classroom. “That’s going to be huge, especially with those older guys helping those young guys,” he said. “We got some arm talent at the position and that’s exciting.”
That talent was on full display with the freshmen, to different results. Three-star Kyle Trask showed off his arm with 63 yards on 4-of-7 passing. It was obvious that he was comfortable with the offense, and he even checked down with his legs a couple of times, gaining 17 yards on four keepers.
Four-star freshman Feleipe Franks got off to as bad a start as one could expect in the game. He completed his first four passes, though only one was to a wideout. Franks coughed up three interceptions on his first four attempts, two to junior cornerback Duke Dawson, the second of which was returned to the house for a pick-six.
But McElwain let Franks back on the field for the final drive of the game. Donning a Blue jersey instead of the turnover-prone Orange, he went 4-for-7 on the last possession, tossing a touchdown to sophomore tight end C’yonta Lewis as time expired.
“Feleipe got a little confused at what color jersey he was throwing to a couple times, but that’s all right,” McElwain said. “He had a really good spring, as did Kyle Trask. Both of those guys came so far. You can tell they’re guys that can throw the football and aren’t afraid to fit it into some windows. And I think they’re going to do that.
“The big thing with Feleipe: He’s a great player; he just can’t let those things affect him. You just got to learn from it. You can tell on the last drive, he ran with his feet, didn’t throw the ball up, checked the ball down [and threw a touchdown]. Those are all things that tell me he’s learning how to play the position.”
Yes, Franks may well be headed for a redshirt. Trask too, probably. But what was most important about the performance from Florida’s freshmen quarterbacks at Friday night’s 2016 Orange & Blue Debut was their potential was on full display.
To that point, the ability of the veterans to move the team and find success after just 15 practice was important as well.
Will it be Del Rio taking snaps under center when Florida opens against UMass in early September? Maybe. Probably. Most likely. While that wasn’t cemented on Friday night in The Swamp, Del Rio most certainly took another step forward towards the huddle.