GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain won’t make an official decision until later in the week, but it sounds like injured quarterback Luke Del Rio could be ready to reclaim the starting job Saturday as the Gators host LSU.
As far as backup Austin Appleby is concerned, though, nothing has changed as of yet — including his mindset.
“I think you always anticipate starting. The preparation doesn’t change. I’m looking forward to a great week of practice and a great week of preparation,” Appleby said Monday. “We’ve got a big game on Saturday, a great opponent coming to The Swamp and I’m ready to push the tempo and get these guys ready to have a great performance.”
Appleby has started the last two games for No. 18-ranked Florida (4-1, 2-1) since Del Rio went down with a knee injury late in a Week 3 win over North Texas.
After a terrific first half against Tennessee, the graduate transfer from Purdue struggled in the second half of that loss. He then completed 19-of-28 passes for just 144 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in a 13-6 win Saturday against a Vanderbilt team that came into the game with the worst-ranked pass defense in the SEC.
For the season, Appleby is completing 61.1 percent of his passes for 470 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Del Rio has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 762 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in three starts, albeit against weaker competition (UMass, Kentucky and North Texas).
Appleby reiterated that he wants to keep the job, though McElwain has given every indication that Del Rio will resume starting when ready.
“It’s not me against Luke — it’s me against the defense. We both have a job to do. It’s not like we’re against each other. People want to make it Austin vs. Luke. It’s not that, it’s never been that. We support each other,” Appleby said. “It’s about our position group being the very best it can possibly be to help the Gators win on Saturdays and regardless of whose number’s called. Both of us want our number to be called. He wants to be healthy, he wants to be out there, and I want to be out there and playing because we both think that we are the one that gives our team the best chance to win.
“It’s not he vs. I. It’s not that. And it’s about pushing yourself to get a little bit better every day, as Coach Mac says. There were a lot of good things I put on tape, a lot of things I’ve got to clean up. Nevertheless, it’s about moving forward, taking the positives from it and getting a little bit better.”
Florida has scored only 20 points over the last six quarters, and panic within the fan base is again setting in a year after the Gators’ offense slumped down the stretch to contribute to a deflating finish to the 2015 season.
Fans are clamoring for Del Rio to return, though whoever is taking the snaps will be faced with overcoming a struggling offensive line.
“He’s done a good job,” McElwain said of Appleby. “You always want to have a couple throws back. I bet if you ask a quarterback in the NFL today based on yesterday, there’s a couple guys who might want a throw or two back, right? But that’s part of it. That’s part of playing that position.”
Appleby said it’s up to the quarterbacks — whichever one is in there — to get the offense moving and feeling confident.
“We talk about being a thermostat instead of a thermometer — a guy that brings the heat as opposed to one that maybe feeds off other people,” he said. “Be the one that guys feed off of. That’s the responsibility of our whole room, top to bottom. … We’ve got to do a better job, we will do a better job and our offense as a whole will be all right this week.”