In his first live action in nearly a month, quarterback Luke Del Rio led Florida’s offense through a rain-soaked 40-14 homecoming victory over Missouri on Saturday.
A black, bulky brace still provided support for his left knee as the redshirt sophomore attempted to show his teammates and the 88,825 in attendance at Ben HIll Griffin Stadium that he was back to his normal self, the quarterback who made most of the plays asked upon him during the first three games of the year before a low hit by a North Texas defender resulted in a sprained MCL.
The verdict: He’s not fully back yet.
“I played terrible,” Del Rio said.
Even though the win -- coupled with Tennessee’s loss to Alabama -- gave the now-No. 15 Gators control of the SEC East with four conference games remaining, Del Rio knows there’s work to be done as Florida heads into a bye week.
His final stat line on Saturday: 236 yards on 18-of-38 passing, one touchdown and a career-high three interceptions.
There were some bright spots in Del Rio’s return.
There was his 46-yard completion to freshman Tyrie Cleveland over the middle on the third play of scrimmage, a comforting “welcome back” moment for the quarterback.
There was the 8-yard sideline completion to Brandon Powell on third and 5 in the second quarter, where he evaded a pair of Missouri pass rushers before finding his receiver on the left sideline.
And there was his screen pass to running back Lamical Perine in the third quarter that went for 31 yards.
But for every time Del Rio moved the chains or for every deep completion he made, there was an underthrown pass, a shot into double or triple coverage, or an interception.
The Gators’ first five drives went into Missouri territory. They came away with six points on two field goals. Only four of the 13 overall ended with points.
“Yeah,” second-year UF coach Jim McElwain repeated four times, his voice lowering with each incantation. “It wasn’t good.”
McElwain made sure Del Rio understood his frustration. There’s no excuse for three turnovers. There’s no excuse for poor execution.
“He got on me pretty good,” Del Rio said. “But yeah, I don’t blame him.”
And McElwain doesn’t just blame Del Rio for the offense’s relative lack of production -- a 19-point outing despite gaining 523 yards of offense (Florida scored its other three touchdowns on a pair of interception returns for touchdown and an onside kick returned for a touchdown).
UF was flagged for eight false starts. The
“We did some really good things,” McElwain said, “and then you shoot yourself in the foot, it’s hard to limp back. But part of it that is, is you can’t let that affect the rest of it.”
Del Rio did do enough, however, to keep a tired Missouri defense honest, which helped the Gators establish the run game late.
Florida ran for a season-high 287 yards on Saturday, with 122 of those yards coming in the final quarter. Perine (106 yards) and sophomore Jordan Scarlett (101) led the attack.
“It kinda gives us a little leeway, has the linebackers thinking they have to bail out a little faster,” said Scarlett, a former St. Thomas Aquinas standout. “It definitely gives us a good opportunity to get some great runs in.”
Moving forward, Del Rio would like to get some great throws in on a consistent basis, too.
“It’s not fun to throw picks,” Del Rio said. “it’s not fun to make bad reads and bad throws but that stuff is correctable and I’m going to work to correct it.”