GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gators QB Luke Del Rio was terrible Saturday against Missouri.
He floated throws multiple times to open receivers, allowing Missouri defensive backs to catch up and either defend or intercept passes. He often locked onto his first read and threw into double coverage. He ended the game with 3 interceptions and easily could have had one or two more.
The reaction on Twitter from people whom I respect and who are close to the team was pretty negative.
Very concerned with the offense. Not a good look tonight. https://t.co/yKQA2aym5m
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) October 15, 2016
Luke Del Rio is dangerously close to being benched. You can't have your quarterback forcing this many throws.
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) October 15, 2016
Oh yeah, the Gators won 40-14, and it wasn’t even that close.
I’ve been as critical of the offense as anybody recently. But what I saw against Missouri was encouraging. With Del Rio back, the coaches opened up the offense, targeting playmakers like wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Brandon Powell.
They got the ball to Powell in space as a running back. They ran 2-back sets with running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Mark Herndon, motioning Herndon out wide and forcing Missouri to declare their coverages (the New England Patriots do this weekly with their two tight-end sets).
They ran Wildcat formations with running back Lamical Perine. They even attempted to throw a pass to a defensive lineman on a 2-point conversion and were going to attempt a reverse on a 2-point conversion attempt until left tackle David Sharpe moved early for what seemed like the seventh time.
Del Rio — and all the false starts, eight of them — derailed much of the creativity, but the reality is this game never was in doubt. Even though the Florida defense outscored the offense 14-6 in the first half, Florida outgained Missouri 253-92. Had the offense executed at even an average level, Florida would have put up 60 points.
Now obviously, the Gators didn’t put up 60 and the execution needs to be addressed. The false starts were initially frustrating and then comical toward the end. The first three drives were promising until they stalled into field-goal attempts.
And then there’s Del Rio. Watching his four starts this year, it’s becoming clearer who he is. He has limited physical tools and has to rely on making the right read, getting the ball to his playmakers in space and avoiding turnovers.
If this description sounds familiar to Gators fans, it should. The QB I just described is Greg McElroy, who spearheaded McElwain’s offense for the 2009 national championship Alabama team.
Florida fans may recall that Alabama team beating Florida in the SEC championship game and driving Gators QB Tim Tebow to tears. What they probably don’t recall is McElroy had a 3-game stretch in the middle of the season – against inferior competition – where Alabama looked incredibly beatable due to his poor play.
Now, McElroy had stretches where he played much better than this. But so has Del Rio. And if you take away the interception at the end of the half — let’s be honest, he doesn’t throw that ball unless the clock is running down — his QB rating of 92.4 would have been higher than McElroy’s best performance of this three-game stretch.
The issue to watch with Del Rio is McElroy threw 4 interceptions in the entire 2009 season (an interception rate of 1.2 percent). Until throwing picks on 8 percent of his throws Saturday, Del Rio had a similar interception percentage (2.0) for the season. This is fairly understandable as it was Del Rio’s first game back from injury and he appeared to have trouble getting a good grip on the ball due to the rain.
I think there’s also one more thing to consider. In 2004, I was living in Tallahassee when Hurricane Ivan ripped through Pensacola so violently it destroyed part of the I-10 Escambia Bay Bridge. That storm was initially predicted to hit me directly, and while it didn’t, I wasn’t paying attention to my job. I was paying attention to The Weather Channel and Jim Cantore.
The false starts, the bad reads and the general lack of urgency shown against Missouri looked like a team that had spent much of the last two weeks worrying about their families rather than preparing to play football. I’d expect that we’ll see a much more focused group in two weeks against Georgia.
And big picture, Florida is exactly where they need to be. It controls its destiny in the SEC East. The Gators clearly can play better. But they also have started to find some creativity on offense with Del Rio back. He will play better. And when he does, this team is going to be pretty good.
Now isn’t the time to panic, Gators fans. R-E-L-A-X.