NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida coach Jim McElwain wants to see how injured quarterback Luke Del Rio performs in practice before deciding if he’ll return to action next Saturday against LSU.
Del Rio missed his second game because of a knee injury as No. 23 Florida held on for a 13-6 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Austin Appleby again started in his place, completing 19-of-28 passes for 144 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions as the offense floundered in general.
“Yeah, we’ll wait and see. You know, Luke again was ready in an emergency situation and we’ll probably make that decision, I’ll talk to you on Wednesday about it,” McElwain said. “We need to make sure that we get the full week’s practice and see how it, really, to see how it responds. He hasn’t been doing much — on air stuff, you know what I’m getting at. But we’ve got to test that thing, and there again, that’s a good thing we’ve got a couple quarterbacks so that’s a positive.”
Appleby, who impressed early in Florida’s loss at Tennessee last week with three long completions before struggling after halftime, had just two completions longer than 6 yards until late in the third quarter Saturday.
He then picked up a 15-yard completion on second-and-18, had his longest connection on a 33-yard strike to tight end C’yontai Lewis early in the fourth quarter and on the same drive hit tight end DeAndre Goolsby for 16 yards to set up a field goal.
Overall, it was a rough offensive day for the Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) in general — and that was not all on Appleby.
The offensive line had another subpar showing that played a leading role in the struggles as Florida finished with a season-low 236 offensive yards. For perspective, the Gators’ previous low was 363 in the opener against Massachusetts.
Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2) came into the day ranked 102nd nationally in total defense, giving up 452.5 yards per game.
“I don’t know if we struggled as much as we’ve got to be able to sustain drives,” Appleby said. “When we win on first down and we get our tempo going, we can be prolific, as everyone’s seen. You know, we scored in three minutes. But when we don’t score and we’re turning the ball over and putting our defense back out there early, you know, that’s tough.
“Hats off to a really, really well-coached defense. Coach (Derek) Mason did an unbelievable job with them. They were in their gaps all day, they were downhill and they made us earn it the long, hard way. There were no give-me’s. You know, they were going to let us take the 5-yard completion all game, but they weren’t going to let us beat (them) over their head. And it was a grind-it-out game where, you know, mental endurance was the name of the game. To just keep taking what they give you again and again and again and eventually you hope one of them pops.”
Appleby, who passed for 296 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception at Tennessee last week, didn’t have any interceptions Saturday, but he missed on some reads and some throws.
And he was involved in one play that especially drew McElwain’s ire, when Florida lost a fumble at the goal line on an intended quarterback sneak late in the fourth quarter.
“We missed some throws. You know, it’s beyond me how you fumble the ball on a quarterback sneak at the end of the game. It happened, and yet our defense stepped up,” McElwain said.
A touchdown — or even a field goal — there would have made for a lot less tension in the final minutes for the Gators.
“The defensive line did a pretty good job of diving underneath, trying to do exactly what they caused. And a little bit of crowd noise,” Appleby said of the mishap. “You know, we’ve just got to do a better job of communicating it and securing the snap. The play can’t go without the snap. That’s my job to secure the snap. So, you know, thank God we’ve got the best defense in the country to bail us out, and a win’s a win.”
The crowd noise reference drew some reactions of surprise considering the crowd of 30,565 at Vanderbilt Stadium was full of orange and blue and anything but intimidating.
As for Del Rio nearing a return and his expectation for the quarterback situation next week, Appleby said he isn’t focused on what he can’t control.
“Again, I don’t count my reps; I make my reps count. I’m going to prepare to be the starting quarterback for the Gators. I’ve done that since I’ve been here,” he said. “And whatever coach Mac chooses to do, I’ll be ready to roll.”