Luke Del Rio is back, but can Florida rebound behind its starting quarterback?

By Adam Silverstein
October 13, 2016
Luke Del Rio is back, but can Florida rebound behind its starting quarterback?

Image Credit: AP

Head football coach Jim McElwain‘s had some bad quarterback luck since taking over the Florida Gators. Hell, Florida as a whole has had bad quarterback luck over the last seven years. But with redshirt sophomore starter Luke Del Rio now healed from a scary knee injury, there’s a chance that luck may be turning for the Gators.

Consider this: With his preferred quarterback either starting or splitting time, McElwain is 9-0 at Florida with eight wins against unranked opponents and one victory over a ranked team. The Gators have defeated teams by 21.6 points per game in those contests. Without his chosen starter, McElwain is 5-5 with those five losses all coming against ranked teams and UF being outscored by 4.1 points in those 10 games. That’s a scoring differential of 25.7 points per game.

Much of this, of course, can be attributed to timing. Will Grier was suspended in 2015 after the sixth game of the season with Florida squeaking by Tennessee and only having faced No. 3 Ole Miss at the time. The rest of the schedule included No. 6 LSU, No. 13 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama and No. 14 Michigan — all losses, two of them embarrassing. Del Rio led the Gators to 99 points over his first three games, though he faced three awful teams. His knee injury came just before Florida faced its toughest opponent of its early slate when it went on the road to play No. 14 Tennessee, a game it lost in large part because of the offense’s inability to stay on the field in the second half.

Correlation and causation are not the same thing, and we’ve yet to see Del Rio tested against a quality defense, but there is something to be said for a coach having his preferred — and likely most trusted — player at the most important position on the field for big games.

While Missouri is an unranked opponent and far from the toughest test Florida will face over the remainder of the season, the Gators have been embarrassed on homecoming recently and are facing an overall lack of respect nationally due in large part to how they’ve played the last six quarters on offense this season.

The hope is that the Gators can rely on Del Rio — who traveled with the team to Tennessee despite his injury and has not slacked in his engagement with the game plan during the contests he was set to miss — and his consistency on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

McElwain said Wednesday that Del Rio is “obviously comfortable” with the offense, adding that Florida will “start Luke and see where it goes from there.” That technically leaves the door open for graduate transfer Austin Appleby to possibly get some playing time. Of course, the plan was to get Appleby and the Gators’ freshmen snaps in the first two games of the season and that didn’t exactly transpire.

The only thing that could hold Del Rio back from seeing all the snaps would likely be swelling or discomfort in his rehabilitated knee. McElwain said Del Rio saw some expected swelling last week but that there was little concern about it from the player or training staff.

“Obviously the swelling comes and goes, but that’s normal with a lot of those injuries,” the coach said on this week’s SEC teleconfernece. “He’ll be ready to go. I know he’s excited to get out there. Austin’s had a good week as well as far as preparation, but we’re going to move forward with Luke and see how he handles it. His recovery off each practice has been a little better each day. And that’s a good thing.”

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