GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After opening the door for a potential quarterback change following a deflating loss Saturday at Arkansas, Florida coach Jim McElwain confirmed Monday that will be indeed be the case.
Starter Luke Del Rio will not play this week against South Carolina, but not due to performance.
McElwain revealed that Del Rio has a shoulder injury that will keep him out for “a while.” He also acknowledged, as a result, that he should have pulled the quarterback from the Gators’ 31-10 loss to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Ark.
Veteran Austin Appleby will get the first reps in practice Monday, but McElwain said the team’s freshmen quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask will also have a chance to be involved.
“Looking back, hindsight is 20-20. At halftime of that ball game, I think it speaks to the belief of our team and the toughness of Luke, and yet sometimes you’ve got to be honest,” McElwain said. “He was banged up, played that way and, you know, looking myself in the mirror we should have made a change at halftime. And yet, part of the reason that we didn’t, obviously didn’t know the severity of it, No. 1, and No. 2, there wasn’t ever a panic. He didn’t play up to par and you understand why.”
McElwain didn’t say whether Del Rio could return this season. When asked specifically if there would be an open competition for that position, he said, “Yeah, we’ll figure it out.”
Del Rio finished 19-of-37 passing for 229 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions Saturday, including a pick-6 that bounced off wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland on his first throw of the game.
McElwain said the injury happened in the middle of the second quarter when Del Rio landed on his shoulder awkwardly, but the quarterback didn’t say anything during the game.
“He’s a tough guy, never said anything,” McElwain said. “… You could really see (on film). Again, retrospect … the (second) interception thrown to Callaway down the middle, yeah.”
On whether the injury could be season-ending: “I don’t know that. We’ll see once we get everything read. It’s bad, man. When you can’t lift your duffle bag up, chances are something’s hurt,” he said.
Del Rio has thrown 2 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in three games since returning from a knee injury. Overall, the redshirt-sophomore has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 1,358 yards, 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his first season as the Gators’ starter.
After the loss, McElwain had acknowledged that he considered pulling Del Rio from the game before ultimately opting to stick with him. He opened the door then for a change, confirming there was a possibility of giving one of Florida’s true freshmen quarterbacks a chance over the final weeks of the season.
And he reiterated that Monday.
“We’ll go with all three guys. Obviously, Austin will take the first snap at practice today. … And we’ll see as the week goes on to see where and how we play those guys,” McElwain said. “… One of the good things we do is they don’t get lost down on the scout team. We do a lot of drills and stuff against each other so they’re in the offense as far as knowing what to do. You know, we’ll see as the week goes on.”
Appleby, a graduate transfer from Purdue, made two starts against Tennessee and Vanderbilt when Del Rio was out with his knee injury and has completed 61.1 percent of his passes overall for 470 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The freshmen have not seen the field yet. If either or both do play, McElwain said the onus is on the rest of the offensive players to help them.
“The big thing is the people around him, it goes back to that a little bit, elevating their play a little bit and probably cutting down the field from a read standpoint and making sure you change the launch points so guys can’t get on them,” he said.