The Florida Gators have found a starting quarterback.
Florida culminated spring practice with the Orange and Blue Debut under the lights on a Friday night for the first time in school history. Over the course of the 15 practices that Florida held prior to Friday night, head coach Jim McElwain had praised all four quarterbacks but Friday night an obvious front runner emerged.
Redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio took the first snaps Florida’s first team offense and shined during the scrimmage, completing 10-of-11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, especially after the way the 2015 season ended, he didn’t throw any interceptions.
“Luke I felt did a good job at letting the game come to him, and it’s amazing what happens when you throw it to the open guy,” McElwain said of Del Rio. “He got a pretty good stat line, I don’t know what it was, but I think he did a pretty decent job of that.”
McElwain has been judicious when asked about the starting quarterback battle, not wanting to tip his hand when asked about Del Rio or Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby. McElwain was quick to point out that Appleby was able to move the second string offense effectively, but when pressed, McElwain did concede that Del Rio was slightly ahead of Appleby at this point in time.
There was a point in the spring where Del Rio made the race close. Midway through camp, Del Rio get the competition get to him and he started pressing, started to try and do more than he was being asked of and it hurt him.
“I was pressing a little bit not letting the offense work for me,” Del Rio said. “[The coaches] do a great job of installing the plays and putting guys open for us. I just have to let the offensive line do what they do, the wide receivers do what they do and go through progressions. It’s easier that way. Just run the offense. It works.”
When he settled down and realized that the coaching staff wants him to be a part of the offensive scheme and not the entire offense, Del Rio was able to truly start leading. It’s an odd concept; sort of a less is more mentality. That new understanding allowed Del Rio to play within himself. It may not lend to Heisman Trophy-like numbers, but it’s an attitude that McElwain believes will win games and Del Rio is buying in.
“I wasn’t doing my job. I wasn’t going through my reads correctly, timing was off, feet were off,” Del Rio said of his mid-camp struggled. “Just kind of talked with Coach Nuss, talked with Coach Mac. They just told me to go back to the basics and that’s what I did. It worked.”
McElwain won’t name a starter any time soon. Florida doesn’t play a real game until September and you can bet the head coach will hold off on making any final, “official” call. What fans saw on Friday night should provide an answer, though.
This is Luke Del Rio’s team.