University of Florida

Burning QB redshirt an ‘only if’ situation, McElwain says

Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) gets off a pass in the first half against Alabama during the Southeastern Conference championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sat., Dec. 3, 2016. Alabama won, 54-16.
Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) gets off a pass in the first half against Alabama during the Southeastern Conference championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sat., Dec. 3, 2016. Alabama won, 54-16. TNS

Forget talk about the Florida Gators burning a freshman quarterback’s redshirt for the bowl game.

UF coach Jim McElwain said Thursday in a Outback Bowl media availability at Raymond James Stadium that graduate transfer Austin Appleby will start when the No. 20 Gators face the 21st-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.

As for the backup?

McElwain said redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio should be cleared to play by the time the game kicks off on Jan. 2.

With this scenario, McElwain said it’s unlikely he will need to insert either of his true freshmen —Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask — into the final game of the season.

“That was an ‘only if’ situation,’” McElwain said about playing a freshman quarterback. “That’s all it was.”

Appleby has been the Gators’ starter for the past four games with Del Rio dealing with a shoulder injury, which was re-aggravated during Florida’s 31-10 loss to Arkansas. In that span, the Gators have gone 2-2, with wins against South Carolina and LSU followed by back-to-back losses to Florida State and Alabama.

Appleby has thrown for 755 yards on a 61.6-percent completion rate, with five touchdowns and four interceptions during that span.

Del Rio, who also missed a pair of games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt earlier in the season with a high-ankle sprain, did practice last week as a backup, McElwain said.

“It’s been hard on [Del Rio] because he’s such a competitive guy and has tried to play his way through it and realized he couldn’t,” McElwain said. “But it’s been good to see him try to come back.”

CRONKRITE TO TRANSFER

Sophomore running back Jordan Cronkrite will not be playing for the Gators next season.

The Miami native and former standout at Westminster Christian received a release from his scholarship and will transfer, the school announced on its website Thursday.

Before the season, Cronkrite looked to have a valued role in Florida’s four-headed backfield.

But an injury in the last week of training camp and the emergence of sophomore Jordan Scarlett and true freshman Lamical Perine throughout the season limited his touches.

And in the last five games, the former four-star recruit has been virtually a non-factor in Florida’s plans.

He’s carried the ball just five times for 33 yards, and has eight catches for 38 yards.

“You hope they find what they’re looking for,” McElwain said. “We hate to lose him. And yet, I don’t want him to be unhappy either.”

PRACTICE SCHEDULE

In McElwain’s first season with the Gators, he split his team into two squads during the early portion of bowl game practices.

The seniors and juniors leaving for the NFL Draft focused on conditioning. Everyone coming back practiced as normal.

But due to the rash of injuries UF has sustained this season, McElwain doesn’t have that luxury the second time around.

“We don’t have enough bodies,” McElwain said. “Unless we’re going to play an eight-man game out here, we’re going to have to have everybody practice.”

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