GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio probably should have started against Michigan.
Hindsight makes for the hottest takes.
But really, most of you would acknowledge — even before the comeback win at Kentucky — that Del Rio is more prepared for the job than his counterparts. How can he not be?
If four years with Doug Nussmeier and six collegiate starts (with a 5-1 record) doesn’t give him a mental advantage over Feleipe Franks, than the redshirt freshman must be a messiah.
It was Del Rio, however, who served as the savior Saturday and once again walked on water against UK.
“Nice to be back out there,” he said in his postgame press conference. “I actually never got hit.”
In his first career SEC start last year vs. Kentucky, Del Rio became the first Florida QB to pass for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns in conference play since Rex Grossman in 2001.
But Gators coach Jim McElwain simply could not start him in the 2017 season opener.
His nightmare performance at Arkansas turned the fan base against him — one game is all it takes nowadays — and his shoulder rehab opened the door for Franks this offseason.
“Feleipe won the job [in camp]. He earned it,” Del Rio said.
Franks deserved to get the first snap in Jerry World, and let’s face it: Gator Nation would have collectively gasped and groaned if Del Rio trotted out there for the opening drive.
In this case, the backup quarterback is not the most popular guy on the team. A little bird who watched the game Saturday in a midtown bar in Gainesville told me the entire establishment shouted expletives when Del Rio subbed in.
Spark be damned.
In the two games he’s been pulled, Franks had 160 combined passing yards, a 57 percent competition rate, a touchdown and no interceptions. Not exactly wetting the bed.
With Franks showing promise, Kadarius Toney taking off and Malik Zaire waiting in the wings, few coaches would have the gall to start a former walk-on at quarterback over those three options.
“I think there was a coach here one time that used to roll quarterbacks like they were dice,” McElwain said in his postgame interview with Brady Ackerman.
A bench is a coach’s best friend. Steve Spurrier knew that as well as anyone.
Danny Wuerffel led Florida to its first national championship in 1996 and won the second Heisman Trophy in school history. Ask the Gators QB how many times Spurrier pulled him as a freshman and sophomore.
McElwain gambled by going to Del Rio, who hadn’t played in almost a year and was put in a tough spot Saturday. Then he throws a pick on his first drive.
And yet, McElwain stuck to his guns in the face of sexier options on the sidelines, and with fans in the stands — and watching in bars — telling him how to do his job.
What would Spurrier do? Well, one thing he did was start a fifth-string quarterback from Mississippi and turned him into one of the most productive passers in league history.
That took gall as well, and Spurrier’s gamble on Shane Matthews paid off in a big way. McElwain has another miraculous win to build on and learn from.
And since he’s following one example set by the HBC, perhaps McElwain should take a page from another former Gators coach with multiple rings.
Spurrier won championships at Florida with confidence, creativity and coaching acumen. So did Urban Meyer.
Meyer — like Spurrier — revolutionized offenses in the SEC with Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and his spread-option system. McElwain doesn’t have a Heisman contender at QB right now, but Florida’s offensive personnel is the best we’ve seen since the Meyer era.
Tyrie Cleveland, Malik Davis and Toney are that special. They accounted for all of Florida’s long plays against Kentucky, and most of them were the result of a creative design by Nussmeier (Toney’s wildcat run and his trick pass to Cleveland).
Those are Meyer-like calls.
How about trying a true spread-option package — featuring pitches, reverses, shovel passes, etc. — with Cleveland on the outside, Toney in the slot, Davis in the backfield and DeAndre Goolsby at tight end?
The staff needs to get something — anything — out of Zaire. The QB situation is still unsettled and he’s a weapon that can potentially contribute in the right role.
I’m not saying he should start — the job may still belong to Franks, and Del Rio clearly brings value to this football team — but I think Zaire would look swell in a spread-option package.
I guess what I’m trying to say is roll all of your dice. You could hit the jackpot.