GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain indicated starting quarterback Luke Del Rio is likely out for next week and “it doesn’t look great” going forward.
Del Rio was hurt late in the third quarter of No. 23 Florida’s 32-0 win Saturday night when North Texas defensive end Joshua Wheeler plowed low into the quarterback’s planted leg as he followed through on a pass.
Wheeler was penalized for roughing the passer and Del Rio stayed down on the field for several minutes in obvious pain.
Del Rio was eventually able to walk off the field on his own and waved to fire up the crowd before exiting through the tunnel.
“Luke is getting his leg looked at right now. It doesn’t look great, so you know what, we’ll do whatever,” McElwain said. “Somebody else will play, we’ll get some guys ready and move forward and get ready to go play next week.”
The low hit on Del Rio riled up the Gators.
McElwain raced out from the sideline to share his frustration over the play and had to be held back and pulled away by his players. Left guard Martez Ivey then got ejected for a personal foul on the next play.
“I obviously took that low hit on Luke awful personal,” McElwain said. “I told (North Texas coach Seth Littrell) after the ballgame that I’m sure his guy was just scrambling trying to make a play, but you know what, I really care about these players. I care about them in more ways than just as football players, and when you see something like that … it’s my responsibility when their parents aren’t here to be their parents. And each and every guy on this football team knows how much I care for them, and I’ve got their back.”
Del Rio, who was replaced by veteran backup Austin Appleby, finished 14 of 25 passing for 186 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. He wasn’t able to follow up his breakout performance from the week before against Kentucky, but after the game, the bigger concern was his health.
Appleby, who came to Florida this year as a graduate transfer, made 11 career starts at Purdue while passing for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 17 games overall.
He finished the game Saturday night 2 for 4 for 30 yards and helped orchestrate a scoring drive that Jordan Scarlett capped with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Gators also scored a touchdown on the drive in which Del Rio left the game, riding their ground attack and a 20-yard Mark Thompson run into the end zone.
Appleby will be the guy next week at Tennessee and Florida will also get freshmen quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask more reps in practice.
“I’m excited for those opportunities if that’s what happens,” McElwain said.
He added that the Gators would not change the offense, though.
“We’ll play action, we’ll throw it deep. All our guys have got good arms and we’ll stretch the field. The plan doesn’t change,” he said. “We’ll do what we need to do to get some guys downfield.”
As for the low hit that had him so fired up, McElwain said he did not blame the North Texas coaches.
“No bad blood there at the end at all,” he said. “I’m sure, like I said, their guy was probably just trying to make a play. They’ve been called on it a couple times in previous games, but it’s not something they coach, I know that.”