University of Florida

Florida’s offense has pieces to be successful. It just needs a quarterback

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio looks for a receiver against Kentucky in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Sat., Sept. 10, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio looks for a receiver against Kentucky in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Sat., Sept. 10, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. AP

Once again, the Florida Gators had another season where the offense failed to find consistency.

Injuries both at quarterback and along the offensive line magnified the struggle for the Gators, who finished the year last in the Southeastern Conference and 116th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total yards (334 per game). UF also finished 12th in the conference and 107th nationally in scoring offense (23.9 points per game).

“We’ve got a lot to work on,” said UF coach Jim McElwain, who is 19-8 in his two years as Florida’s head coach with two SEC East titles.

McElwain has most of the pieces in place. Florida returns all of its major skill position players from this season and nine offensive linemen with considerable playing experience.

The main issue for the head coach heading into Year 3: Finding a quarterback.

It’s been a steady theme for the past seven seasons. Since Tim Tebow played his final snap in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, the Gators have started nine quarterbacks, with at least two quarterbacks earning at least three starts in each of the past four seasons.

This year, redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio opened the year as the team’s starter before suffering a sprained MCL against North Texas. He returned a month later to play three more games before being ruled out for the year with a shoulder injury. Graduate transfer Austin Appleby played the other seven games, including five straight to close out the season.

And heading into next season, McElwain said the position is open for the taking.

“I mean every year it is [an open competition]. That doesn’t change,” McElwain said. “And that would be going through spring and you know summer and obviously fall.”

Del Rio will be in the mix, McElwain said. The rest of the competition will include Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask -- both of whom redshirted their first year on campus -- and incoming freshman Jake Allen, a three-star recruit out of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Appleby said he has been impressed by Trask and Franks throughout their first year on campus.

“The only people that are going to get in their way is them,” Appleby said. “It's up to them to take everything that they've learned, to take the things that they've learned from the guys that have played before them, the good and the bad, the way that we prepared throughout the week and the way that we affect our teammates in a positive way, to take that stuff and move forward.”

Whoever wins the quarterback battle, though, will have playmakers to work with when the Gators open the 2017 season against Michigan on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas.

Running back Jordan Scarlett, a former St. Thomas Aquinas standout who led UF with 889 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, is back.

Receivers Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell and Tyrie Cleveland, a trio that accounted for more than 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, are back. Dre Massey, a junior college transfer who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff of the season, is also expected to be fully healthy by the Michigan game.

Tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis are back.

And four of Florida’s six main starters on the offensive line are back, the only two leaving are junior David Sharpe (NFL Draft) and redshirt junior Cam Dillard (graduate transfer).

“We just have to go out and do what we do,” Scarlett said. “... We have a lot of playmakers. We just have to find ways to get them the ball."