On a picture-perfect Friday night, Florida held its first-ever spring game under the lights.
The newly revamped Orange & Blue Debut included a wing cookoff, postgame fireworks and a walk-on quarterback cementing the starting job.
Luke Del Rio, the purported front-runner in a four-headed heated battle, carved up the second-team defense and stamped his claim to become Florida’s new starting quarterback on Sept. 3 against UMass.
Del Rio was sharp all night, decisively delivering crisp passes, looking composed and leading the Blue Team to a 44-6 rout.
“He did a good job letting the game come to him,” Florida’s second-year coach Jim McElwain said, adding that Del Rio enters the offseason with an edge for the starting job.
“I think so. … It’s amazing what happens when you throw it to the open guy. You get a pretty good stat line.”
The former Oregon State transfer was nearly perfect Friday night, competing 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two scores.
Del Rio displayed great command of the offense, tossing a well-placed wheel route for a 14-yard touchdown on the game’s second play.
Later, he connected with early enrollee standout Dre Massey for a 19-yard score, leading four scoring drives overall.
“I was pressing a little bit [earlier in camp],” Del Rio said, acknowledging several recent subpar practices. “But [the coaches] do a great job of installing plays, and putting guys open for us, so I just kind of let the o-line do what they do. Let the wide receivers do what they do and I just went through the progressions. It’s easier that way. The coaches are right, ‘Run the offense. It works.’ ”
It did Friday night.
The Blue Team, primarily stacked with stars and first-teamers, tallied 333 total yards, as Massey, C.J. Worton (a Miami Dade product) and tailback Jordan Cronkrite (a Westminster Christian alum) all impressed.
Florida’s first-team defense dominated as well (three turnovers, five sacks), but all eyes were on the quarterbacks.
Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby was solid in his first game in The Swamp.
Appleby hardly wowed and was sacked multiple times behind Florida’s struggling backup offensive line, but he still piloted three scoring drives. He finished the night 8 of 11 for 80 yards.
Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks had a rough debut, as the four-star recruit was intercepted three times in four attempts — including his first pass on the night.
UF nickel-back Duke Dawson capped a fantastic spring with two picks, returning one of Franks’ errant throws for a 30-yard touchdown. Franks rebounded late, though, throwing a 16-yard touchdown to tight end C’yontai Lewis to end the scrimmage.
Overall, Florida’s offense showed some positive strides after 15 practices and Friday’s pseudo-game. The starting offensive line appeared sturdier (especially inside), several playmakers emerged and the usual self-inflicted woes (drops, penalties) were largely absent. Furthermore, the Gators may’ve even solved their kicking woes.
Junior-college transfer Eddy Pineiro, a Miami native, debuted his rocket leg, drilling three field goals — two from 50-plus yards. Pineiro drew some of the night’s loudest cheers when he nailed a 52-yard kick in the first quarter. Later, he hit a 56-yard kick.
Pineiro was one of several early enrollees to showcase well, as Massey and tailback Mark Thompson both had big nights, too.
Massey caught 3 passes for 39 yards, showcasing his tantalizing speed and shiftiness, and Thompson, the No. 1 junior college tailback in the 2016 class, rumbled for a 26-yard touchdown. The 6-2, 245-pound bruiser led all rushers with 45 yards and flaunted his versatility, too, catching three balls for 25 yards.