GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Just as Florida coach Jim McElwain was aggressive in defending his player Saturday night after Gators quarterback Luke Del Rio was knocked out of the game by a low hit, North Texas coach Seth Littrell went on the defensive Tuesday.
According to Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle, Littrell said defensive end Joshua Wheeler was pushed in the back and tripped before colliding into Del Rio’s planted left leg as the quarterback followed through on a pass late in the third quarter.
Wheeler was flagged for roughing the passer and Del Rio is now sidelined with a knee injury that will cause him to miss the Gators’ huge SEC East showdown with Tennessee on Saturday and however many more games it takes him to recover.
Wheeler had also delivered a hit in the season opener on a play in which SMU quarterback Matt Davis tore his ACL.
— Brett Vito (@brettvito) September 20, 2016
“These people know nothing about the kid,” Littrell said, according to Vito’s report. “That is what is frustrating. He takes it personally. He is an unbelievable person. If anyone knew him who was saying those things, they wouldn’t be saying them.
“He didn’t mean to do it. He was playing hard and trying to make a play. To be honest with you, if you look at it closely, he was pushed in the back and tripped. He was on his way down anyway. There is nothing he could have done. It is what it is.
“I understand their coaching staff and their frustration. That is their quarterback and their player. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Afterward, (McElwain) said (that) we have had a couple of targeting calls. Those are not the facts. We haven’t had any targeting calls. He brought up that we took out the SMU quarterback. No, the SMU quarterback was running in the open field. He got hit, his cleat got stuck. It is what it is. It’s football. We are not trying to hurt anyone.
“I feel bad for both of those young men and want them to get healthy, but trust me, I am going to take care of my guys, too. No one is going to come over and yell at me or my sideline and say that we don’t have integrity or play the game the right way. That’s not the facts. I am not going to allow that to happen.”
As Del Rio lay in pain Saturday night while being tended to by trainers, McElwain rushed onto the field to yell over to the North Texas sideline and to anyone else in the area.
“I obviously took that low hit on Luke awful personal,” McElwain said Saturday night. “I told (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.”