GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain has now lost his starting quarterback for the third consecutive season.
No matter how you slice it, that’s tough to chew on and harder to swallow.
Luke Del Rio suffered a season-ending collarbone injury Saturday in Florida’s 38-24 win over Vanderbilt. It’s an all too familiar feeling for McElwain.
“It’s hard,” McElwain said of losing Del Rio. “I think he was the one that told you he had never been through a season on a team that only used one quarterback. So, that’s exactly right.”
Again, not easy to digest.
McElwain’s losses to Alabama and Florida State? Del Rio and Will Grier couldn’t play.
His record against Top 25 teams? Those two would have helped it.
Nonetheless, McElwain doesn’t deserve a pass against the big boys. Del Rio and Grier probably don’t change those outcomes anyway, save for the LSU loss two years ago.
But in the games with Grier and Del Rio, McElwain is 13-1. The one loss came at Arkansas, when Del Rio played the entire game with a torn labrum.
McElwain is once again without him and has to go through another season that way. This year, however, is different than previous ones.
McElwain now has options and — more importantly — talent at the position.
We saw with the first throw against Michigan and the last against Tennessee. It was evident again Saturday, when quarterback Feleipe Franks uncorked a 49-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland on his third attempt to tie the game before half.
He finished with 185 yards on 10-of-14 passing. Vanderbilt, by the way, had the SEC’s top-ranked pass defense. Franks may be young and limited with what he can do, but he has a better skill set and more potential than the quarterbacks who stepped in for Grier and Del Rio.
This isn’t like last season, when McElwain lost Del Rio twice to injury and for the season against Arkansas. He turned to Austin Appleby, who was benched at Purdue, had a 2-9 record as a starter and went 4-3 with the Gators.
This isn’t 2015, when Grier received a year-long suspension and eventually transferred to West Virginia. Treon Harris posted a 4-4 record, regressed as a sophomore and now plays at Tennessee State.
The Gators still won the SEC East with Harris and Appleby, but those two gave them zero chance against Alabama in the last two conference title games.
The loss of a starting quarterback can derail offenses and ruin W-L records (see 2013 for another Florida example). McElwain has a difficult road ahead, but he’s in a better position to handle it in his third year at the helm.
“The guys rallied behind Feleipe,” McElwain said. “We talked about our situation, and that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”
McElwain has a gunslinger in Franks, who is supposed to be the future at QB. He has another graduate transfer option, but not of the Appleby variety. Malik Zaire is a weapon.
Oh yeah, there’s also this player named Kadarius Toney.
As a whole, this is Florida’s best offensive personnel since 2009. McElwain’s job just got harder, but he’s not helpless anymore.
The post Jim McElwain loses his starter again, but Florida not crippled at QB this year appeared first on SEC Country.