GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain was a little more direct about his plans for quarterback Luke Del Rio this week while speaking on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday.
Del Rio will indeed start, as expected, as he continues to progress from the knee injury that cost him two games.
“He was ready last week and obviously the swelling comes and goes, but that’s normal with a lot of those injuries. So he’ll be ready to go and I know he’s excited to get out there,” McElwain said. “Austin (Appleby) has had a good week as well as far as preparation goes, but we’re going to move forward with Luke and see how he handles it. His recovery off of each practice has been a little bit better every day and that’s a good thing.”
McElwain had more or less said that Monday, but in vaguer terms.
Del Rio, a redshirt-sophomore in his first year as Florida’s starting quarterback, led the Gators to a 3-0 start against Massachusetts, Kentucky and North Texas while completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 762 yards, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions. Appleby, a fifth-year senior, started the last two games, going 1-1 against Tennessee and Vanderbilt while completing 61.1 percent of his throws for 470 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT.
The numbers aren’t significantly different, but the Gators are hoping the return of Del Rio can spark an offense that has totaled just 20 points and two touchdowns over the last six quarters.
Sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett acknowledged that Del Rio’s knowledge of the playbook and offense, having had an extra year in the system while Appleby arrived in January from Purdue, makes a difference.
That’s the main reason he thinks Florida is ready to take off offensively.
“I feel like we can make a good statement coming back. We’ve got Luke Del Rio coming back,” Scarlett said. “Not knocking Appleby at all, it’s just that Luke is a little bit more comfortable with the offense and understanding points and stuff like that. I think we’ll do a lot better come Saturday.”
Scarlett didn’t want to make it about any shortcomings from Appleby and when asked further if there was a big difference in terms of what the quarterbacks do pre-snap at the line of scrimmage, he said, “kind of, not really.”
“(Del Rio) will just pick out some extra things. He’ll see a blitz that’s coming that the coach didn’t say we had to pick up on and he knows that it’s coming and he’ll be like, ‘Alright, we’ve got to get him,'” he said. “He’s just a little bit more comfortable and knows what’s going on.”
Scarlett also said he expects Del Rio’s presence will help the running backs as well.
“It’s an advantage because the DBs have to take account for him now; they’re just not all playing the run. So Luke takes a little bit of the load off my shoulders,” Scarlett said. “And he has everybody in command. He’s like the general. He calms everybody down when we’re in tough situations and rallies us all together.”
McElwain, meanwhile, was complimentary of Appleby in his comments on the teleconference Wednesday.
“I thought he did a really good job of taking the team, and he’s ready to play as well,” he said. “He did a great job of preparation and he’s got a great understanding. Believe me, I’m really happy he’s here and he’s had a good week too. They’re still splitting the reps, you know, in the practice and that type stuff, so he’s mentally ready and he’ll be ready to go in at the drop of a hat.”
Del Rio has now had three-plus weeks to heal and recover from the low hit that injured his knee in that Week 3 game against North Texas.
He spoke Monday about his readiness to play — and as much, his eagerness to return.
McElwain commented on that as well.
“He is a competitive son of a gun. He did a really good job, I felt, not feeling sorry for himself when he was hurt, but rather taking that opportunity to really even dive more into it,” he said. “His want and just understanding, still, just take what they’re giving you, when the shot’s there go ahead and do it. I know he’s going to be really juiced up and excited to get back on the field.”