GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As Florida coach Jim McElwain does not make his coordinators available for interviews after the team’s preseason media day, reporters and fans alike had not gotten a chance to hear offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s assessment of Luke Del Rio’s first career start at quarterback.
Until Thursday night, that is.
Nussmeier joined McElwain for a couple of segments during his weekly appearance on “Gator Talk” inside Piesanos Pints & Pies and discussed Del Rio’s Florida debut.
The redshirt-sophomore quarterback completed 29-of-44 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Gators’ 24-7 win over Massachusetts.
“You talk about maturity, you talk about his understanding of the game, he’s grown up around it and he has a really good feel for (the game),” Nussmeier said. “He wasn’t always perfect, but he knew what had happened. He knew the process and the why, and that’s a big thing when you’re playing at this level — why did it happen? If your quarterback’s processing at a high level, you’ve always got a chance to go to the next level.”
While the Florida offense was not exceptionally impressive in general in the opener, lacking big plays and scoring just 10 points through three quarters before breaking the game open in the fourth, the reviews of Del Rio have been favorable.
McElwain has said multiple times this week that he thought the first-time starter was “pretty darn good.”
Asked about Del Rio again by the fans in attendance at the radio show Thursday night, McElwain said much of what Nussmeier would point out later in the show while also looking ahead to the matchup the Gators will face in their SEC opener with Kentucky this Saturday.
“I thought he was in control the whole game. He never looked out of sorts. He (knew) exactly where he was supposed to go with it,” McElwain said. “I thought he missed six throws he’d like to have back. With that, we had four drops where he put the ball where it needed to be …
“He always knew coming off the field, visiting with him, he knew exactly what he saw, he understood what was going on and there was never any panic that set in on the sideline because our guys trusted him. I know he learned a lot from this game. His preparation is even better for this week. Now obviously, the (Kentucky players) that are flying around have a lot more speed. Their secondary that we’re going to face, they’ve got a 6-4 corner on one side, a 6-2 one on the other, guys that can really go get the ball and have good ball skills.
“So we’ve got to be really accurate, not only in the throws, but more so disciplined in the routes to go get open. … I’m excited to see his growth from game one to game two.”
Fans would certainly like to see more big plays out of Del Rio and the offense this week — especially against a Wildcats team that gave up 520 yards of offense to Southern Mississippi last weekend — but the coaches seem genuinely pleased with what they saw last Saturday night.
As Del Rio beat out graduate transfer Austin Appleby for the starting job this preseason, he emphasized his command of the playbook as one of his strengths after sitting out last year following his transfer from Oregon State. He had a year to soak in McElwain and Nussmeier’s offense, and as one of his high school coaches told SEC Country last week, Del Rio’s mental approach and preparation have always been strengths.
That seems to be holding true so far early in his tenure as Florida’s starting quarterback.
As for Appleby, who joined the Gators from Purdue, Nussmeier spoke of how he’s handled being relegated to the role of back-up.
“Austin has done a tremendous job. I can’t say enough about a guy that battled really hard in fall camp, and we made the decision that Luke was going to start, and he has been nothing but, what you would say, the best teammate,” Nussmeier said. “I mean, a guy who spends extra time not only helping Luke — because really Austin has more game experience than Luke — but helping our young guys.”