KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Florida quarterback Austin Appleby was on the verge of shocking the world against Michigan State in 2014, having led his team back from a 38-17 fourth quarter deficit to 38-31.
Alas, then a Purdue quarterback, Appleby simply didn’t have the pass protection or the weapons to take down the defending Big Ten champions, and the Boilermakers would lose 45-31.
But not before Appleby — making only his second career start — had earned the respect of former Spartans’ captain and linebacker Darien Harris.
“He definitely didn’t get rattled,” said Harris, whose late-game interception sealed Michigan State’s win in a much-closer-than-expected victory. “I remember him being tall and pretty mobile. He had a big arm, but not many weapons … though they did move the ball well on us.
“I would think with much better athletes around him at Florida, he’ll be able to showcase his talent a lot more. He seemed to have command over the team and the huddle, so I’d assume he has leadership capabilities.”
John Shoop, brother of Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, was Appleby’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Purdue.
Of course, Bob Shoop said, he has talked to his brother about Appleby, who will get the start for Florida in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS).
“My brother gave him a tremendous compliment, he compared him to Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket,” Bob Shoop said of his brother, who also served as an NFL offensive coordinator. “He’s a big strong kid, we’re very well aware of that, you get him in the pocket and he’s got people hanging on his body and he can throw it.
“He played very well against Michigan State a couple of years ago, so he’s played in big games he’s not going to be intimidated by this environment. He’s a fifth-year senior who is mature, highly football intelligent, my brother says he prepares very hard.”
Appleby, a graduate transfer, is getting the start on account of sophomore Luke Del Rio suffering a leg injury in his third career start last Saturday against North Texas.
Vols coach Butch Jones offered Appleby a scholarship when he was the head coach at Cincinnati, and he’s aware Florida’s offense could look different with the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder under center.
“He has great great size, and the thing that couples with his size is he can run, and he can extend plays,” Jones said. “We have to do a great job when he drops back to pass of staying in our rush lanes.
“I have a lot of respect for him, and I know a lot about him.”
Shoop said the Gators could changeup their offensive schemes with Appleby — a concept that seems more likely when one considers Florida has completely closed its practices this week.
“There’s a chance of that because he’s a good runner, he’s big and he’s strong,” Shoop said. “We’ve watched film on him. We know his strengths and weaknesses, and that’s the chess match, identifying how coach (Jim) McElwain will use those individual strengths along with and coach (Doug) Nussmeier.”
Harris said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Appleby attack on the perimeter.
“They definitely spread it out on us,” said Harris, who played outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense very similar to Tennessee’s. “They wanted to attack the edges, which is why I got about 10 bubble screens that day.”