GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Another year, another starting quarterback out for the Florida football team.
Seriously, this program is snake-bitten at the position. The Gators lost Luke Del Rio in their 32-0 win over North Texas, and UF coach Jim McElwain said his injury “doesn’t look great.”
For the sixth consecutive year, Florida will have its starting quarterback(s) miss time during a season. Call it the curse of the stolen laptop.
UF now turns to graduate transfer Austin Appleby, who led a stalling offense on back-to-back touchdown drives after Del Rio’s departure. It was the Mean Green, granted, but you saw his experience and poise show up in that fourth quarter.
All the attention will be on Appleby this coming week, but he won’t — and shouldn’t — be the focus of the offense moving forward.
“To be honest, when you’re losing your starting quarterback it’s always going to raise a couple eyebrows,” Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “But the quarterback position is only as good as the people around him.”
“We got four running backs. We’ll be fine.”
McElwain called that position the strength of his entire team heading into the season, and he wasn’t lying. The Gators followed up a 244-yard performance last week with 256 rushing yards against North Texas.
“It’s unbelievable what we’ve been able to do with the run game these last couple of weeks,” Appleby said. “It doesn’t matter what back is in.”
Most assumed a starter would eventually emerge at the position. A running back by committee sounded great in theory, but how it could work with four guys?
- Exhibit A: Florida had four different backs rush for a touchdown Saturday for the first time since 2003.
- Exhibit B: The distribution of touches was calculated and productive, with each back averaging more than 5 yards per run. Lamical Perine (57 yards), Jordan Scarlett (62 yards) and Mark Thompson (85 yards) all received 11 carries. Cronkrite rushed the ball nine times (46 yards), but made three catches for 22 yards.
“There’s no No. 1 guy,” Cronkrite said. “We’re all here to push each other. None of us are ‘I’ guys.”
McElwain’s offensive track record and reputation as a quarterback whisperer warranted his hire at UF. But remember, he became a household name as Alabama’s coordinator primarily because of his run game.
“When I first came on my visit to Florida, they told me Coach Mac was at Alabama when they had all those great running backs,” Thompson said. “They had a great run game there, so it only makes sense that he’s going to do the same thing here.”
And it makes sense now more than ever.
McElwain may have to hitch his wagon to Appleby, but the running backs need to be pulling the weight. Even with Del Rio as the starter, UF was already trending toward a run-first offense.
“Everything we want to do as an offense comes off our run game,” Appleby said. “The play-action passes, all the things we want to do with all of our weapons on the outside, that run game is so critical to us.
“That’s our bread and butter of what we want to do. We want to pound the rock and be a physical offense up front and be able to set up things over the top.”
That won’t stop on Rocky Top. Prior to last season, the team with the most rushing yards had won the last 12 games in the Florida-Tennessee rivalry.
The Gators should bank on that stat in Knoxville, because it won’t matter who they have behind center with that four-headed monster in the backfield.