The quarterback competition is back in play for Florida again.
Coach Jim McElwain announced Monday that starter Luke Del Rio injured his shoulder during Florida’s 31-10 loss against Arkansas and will not play in the No. 22 Gators’ home finale against South Carolina — and possibly for the rest of the season — opening the door for graduate transfer Austin Appleby, or true freshmen Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask to lead a struggling offense down the stretch of the season.
McElwain said Del Rio sustained the injury during the first half against the Razorbacks and in hindsight should have been taken out of the game at halftime. McElwain said he did not know the extent of Del Rio’s injury on Monday and would know more about the severity until the quarterback has an MRI.
“It’s bad, man,” McElwain said. “When you can’t lift your duffel bag up, chances are something’s hurt.”
It’s Del Rio’s second injury this season. The first came late against North Texas on Sept. 17, when Mean Green defensive lineman Joshua Wheeler dove into Del Rio’s planted leg, which resulted in a sprained MCL. Del Rio missed the next two games — a 38-28 loss to Tennessee and a 13-6 win over Vanderbilt.
In the three games since his return, Del Rio has thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions.
For the season, Del Rio has thrown for 1,358 yards on a 56.7 percent completion rate and has eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“He’s a tough guy and never said anything [during the Arkansas game],” McElwain said. “It speaks for him.”
And now, McElwain is looking to see which of his remaining three quarterbacks will step up during practice as Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC) prepares to finish out the season.
The second-year UF coach said this week will be an open competition, with Appleby, Franks and Trask all vying for first-team reps and an opportunity to breathe life into a fading offense. For the season, the Gators offense is ranked 91st in the country and 12th in the SEC, averaging 378.9 yards per game. In its past two games, UF has averaged 236 yards per game.
“We’ll find out,” McElwain said.
Appleby, who enters the week as the expected starter, has taken hold of the offense before and showed upside early.
While Del Rio was on the sideline in the two trips to Tennessee and Vanderbilt, Appleby threw for 440 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
His play stood out the most in the first half against the Volunteers, during which he threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-16 passing en route to giving Florida a 21-3 lead at halftime.
However, in the final six quarters he played (the second half vs. Tennessee and the entire Vanderbilt game), Appleby threw for 227 yards on 32-of-51 passing, one touchdown, one interception, four sacks and a fourth-quarter fumble at the Vanderbilt 1-yard line.
“We have the capability to perform like that [first half against Tennessee],” senior receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. “Us as an offense has to take ownership for what’s happened these last few weeks.”
McElwain also hasn’t ruled out playing either of his true freshmen, adding that first-year signal-callers Franks and Trask have done more than just scout-team work during practice this season. However, neither has taken a live-game snap this season or practiced with the first- or second-team offenses since Del Rio’s return.
“They’re in the offense as far as knowing what to do,” McElwain said. “We’ll see as the week goes on.”
THIS AND THAT
Del Rio isn’t the only Florida starter who will be out after sustaining an injury against Arkansas. Linebacker Alex Anzalone (arm) is out for the year after undergoing surgery on Monday. Fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) will “probably be out” against South Carolina, McElwain said. Center Cam Dillard (knee) is also out on Saturday.
Florida’s SEC finale against LSU on Nov. 19 will kick off from Baton Rouge at 1 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network.