University of Florida

Gators offense still a work in progress after two SEC games

Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) is helped up by offensive lineman Martez Ivey (73) after Appleby fumbled against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6.
Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) is helped up by offensive lineman Martez Ivey (73) after Appleby fumbled against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Florida won 13-6. AP

Standing under center at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter with a 13-6 lead over Vanderbilt, Florida’s Austin Appleby mishandled the snap.

The graduate transfer quarterback attempted to dive straight into the end zone to provide the Gators with insurance in a game where points were hard to come by.

Instead, the ball rolled to his right, untouched, and into the backfield.

Five plays after recovering a fumble from Vanderbilt’s punter in the red zone with an opportunity to shut the door on the game, Appleby and the Gators handed the ball right to the Commodores.

“The defensive line did a pretty good job of diving underneath, trying to do exactly what they caused,” Appleby said. “... The play can’t go without the snap. That’s my job to secure the snap.”

Even with the blunder, the Gators secured the win on the back of timely plays from its defense, which held Vanderbilt to 265 yards and a pair of field goals.

But with the Gators still in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference East title and their conference slate heating up — UF hosts LSU on Saturday and still has Arkansas and Georgia on its slate — the offense needs to find a way to take its production up another gear to stay competitive down the stretch.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us this week,” UF coach Jim McElwain said, “and we’ve got to learn to play physical and play with pad level because we just got pushed around.”

Not including UF’s final set of plays where the Gators kneeled to end the game, the Appleby-led offense had 11 drives to put points on the board.

One ended in a touchdown -— a 4-yard scamper up the middle from former St. Thomas Aquinas standout Jordan Scarlett — two ended in field goals, seven ended in punts and one ended with the goal-line fumble.

Eleven chances, 13 points.

“When we don’t score and we’re turning the ball over and putting our defense back out there early, that’s tough,” Appleby said.

Appleby, who started his second game in a row in place of the injured Luke Del Rio, finished with 144 yards on 19-of-28 passing. Only three of his completions went for longer than 15 yards. Del Rio has a chance to return this week against LSU, which is 3-2 this year and coming off a 42-7 win against Missouri, its first game since firing coach Les Miles.

Florida’s four-headed running attack, which McElwain praised before the season and said was arguably the most talented group on Florida’s roster, failed to get anything going.

The group on Saturday managed just 92 yards on 35 carries, a 2.6 yard-per-carry average.

Five games into the year, the Gators rank 10th in the SEC overall in average rushing offense (160.8 yards) and 11th in yards per rush (4.28). Those numbers nationally rank 79th and 77th, respectively.

“Sometimes [as] Gators, you just come out like, ‘Oh this is another team, we’re going to beat them,’ ” Scarlett said. “So people might come out a little lazy like we’re supposed to win, but we just have to come out with that attitude like we’re playing the best team.”

The offensive line once again failed to give enough push in the trenches, allowing Vanderbilt to apply consistent pressure and live in Florida’s backfield without stacking the box.

Defensive lineman Adam Butler sacked Appleby twice during the game, and the Commodores tallied six tackles for loss.

To McElwain, none of that is acceptable as the Gators move forward.

“I mean, let’s go, right? This is what you do this for,” McElwain said. “Guys, we’re running out of opportunities. We only have so many opportunities. … Take the initiative. Jump out there. Be somebody. It’s not that hard.”

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