Austin Appleby steps foot in the huddle during the third quarter Saturday under tense circumstances.
Moments earlier, starting quarterback Luke Del Rio walked off the field with a trainer under each arm, helping him with each step as he grunted toward the locker room with a bum left knee following a low hit on his planted leg.
“Here we go,” Appleby says to the 10 players in the circle with him. “Let's do it men.’”
He leads four drives, two ending in touchdowns, one in a punt and one with the clock reaching triple zeros to conclude the Gators’ 32-0 win over North Texas, the finale of a season-opening three-game homestand.
Never miss a local story.
"Nobody skips a beat,” Appleby said.
Whether Appleby can keep the group in rhythm for a full game is his next task.
With Del Rio unlikely to play in the Gators’ upcoming road game against Tennessee, all eyes are on the graduate transfer from Purdue as he heads into practice as the assumed starter for the biggest game of Florida’s young season.
“It breaks my heart that it had to come by an injury, and again I'm really hopeful that he'll be healthy and back with us as soon as possible, but I'm ready to roll,” Appleby said. “We've got a job to do."
UF coach Jim McElwain added: “We’ll put a good week of work in, put a good plan in. And I’m excited for those opportunities if that’s what happens.”
Saturday won’t be the Appleby’s first opportunity, however. The 6-4, 240-pound quarterback from North Canton, Ohio, started 11 games while he was at Purdue from 2012-2015, throwing for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His career game came in his final game as a Boilermaker when he threw for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 54-36 loss to Indiana.
"There's no experience like game experience,” Appleby said. “I've played in the big stadiums before. It's not going to be new to me.”
And Appleby won’t have to do it alone.
Behind him is a stable of running backs that rushed for more than 200 yards for a second straight game. All four running backs -- sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett, true freshman Lamical Perine and junior college transfer Mark Thompson -- recorded a touchdown on Saturday, a first for UF since 2003.
When the offense is on the sidelines, the Gators will field a defense that leads the country in yards allowed (129.7/game); scoring defense (4.7/game) & sacks (16). On Saturday, Florida held North Texas to 53 yards of total offense, the lowest yardage total UF has given up in program history, while also sacking quarterback Mason Fine seven times.
“When you lose your starting quarterback, it’s always gonna raise a couple eyebrows, have a couple questions,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “But you know, the quarterback position is only as good as the people around him and the people around him are as only as good as the quarterback position. So it works both ways.”
Come Saturday, Appleby will step foot in the huddle again with another chance to play. This time at the start of the game. He’s not shying away from the opportunity.
"Let's go. Next man up. That's our mentality,” Appleby said. “You come to the University of Florida to play. That's ultimately why I chose to come here.”