Florida’s quarterback situation just got interesting again.
UF coach Jim McElwain said Monday that starter Luke Del Rio is expected to return to practice this week after missing two games with a sprained MCL, and will split first-team reps with Austin Appleby.
McElwain said he plans to decide on the starting quarterback after Wednesday’s practice before the No. 18 Gators (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) host LSU (3-2, 2-1) on Saturday at noon — with the biggest factor being how Del Rio’s knee holds up.
“This was something I know Luke had kind of been targeting a little bit,” McElwain said. “Part of it, his mindset is he’s going to play.”
But Appleby is going in thinking the same.
The graduate transfer from Purdue started Florida’s last two games — a 38-28 loss to Tennessee and a 13-6 win over Vanderbilt — while Del Rio remained on the sideline with a brace on his left leg.
Appleby showed promise in the first half against the Volunteers, throwing for 213 yards on 10-of-16 passing with a pair of touchdowns. Three of those 10 completions were longer than 35 yards.
In the six quarters of play since, Appleby has 227 yards on 32-of-51 passing, one touchdown, one interception, four sacks and a fourth-quarter fumble at the Vanderbilt 1-yard line.
“Everybody on this team has a responsibility to play and to prepare to their very best, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of depth, regardless of whatever,” Appleby said. “For me to work less hard or put any added pressure on myself because of whatever it may be is cheating my teammates, cheating my coaching staff and cheating Gator Nation.”
Del Rio wasn’t a slouch during his time away from the field, either. He stayed engaged with the offense, told receivers what he was seeing and gave pep talks to boost the team’s morale.
Before sustaining the knee injury after a late, low hit from a defensive lineman during Florida’s 32-0 win against North Texas, Del Rio had completed 61 percent of his passes for 762 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He’s been in Appleby’s ear, telling him what’s going on on the field,” junior wide receiver Brandon Powell said. “You can tell he’s ready to get back out there.”
Regardless of who takes the first snap, though, the Gators offense has work to do heading into Saturday.
Florida is coming off a win against Vanderbilt in which it tallied a season-low 236 total yards. That’s the second-lowest offensive output from the Gators in 19 games under McElwain.
Five games into the season, UF’s 407.2 yards per game ranks 77th in the Football Bowl Subdivision for total offense, and ninth in the 14-team SEC.
“Am I excited about where [the offense] is? No,” McElwain said. “Time-frame wise, we’ve got to get better play at some positions, and we’ve got to get more energy out of those positions. And yet that’s my responsibility.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The SEC announced Monday that the Gators’ Oct. 15 home game against Missouri is set for a 4 p.m. kickoff. It will be televised on the SEC Network.
▪ UF’s Johnny Townsend was named the Ray Guy Punter of the Week on Monday, the first national accolade by a Florida player this season. The redshirt junior averaged 51.9 yards per punt against Vanderbilt on Saturday, with four of his seven punts pinning the Commodores inside their 10-yard line. Five games into the season, Townsend’s 50.12 average yards per punt leads the SEC, and ranks second nationally.