If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.
The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.
Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.
Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.
Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.
Jim McElwain and the Florida Gators have been looking to solve the quarterback situation since the midseason suspension of Will Grier last fall. As the spring practices went on the big question was who would be Florida’s best fit running the offense with two main options from which to choose. On Friday night, it appeared there was a pretty definitive leader in the clubhouse with Luke Del Rio leading his team to a decisive victory in the spring game Friday night.
Del Rio completed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Both of his touchdown passes came within the red zone, with one to DeAndre Goolsby and the other to Dre Massey. Del Rio’s main competition came from Purdue transfer Austin Appleby, who played for both teams in the spring game. Appleby completed eight of his 11 pass attempts for 80 yards.
“I was pressing a little bit [early in the spring], not letting the offense work for me,” Del Rio said after the game. “They do a great job of installing plays, putting guys open for us. I just kind of let the offensive line do what they do, let the 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.”
Despite the impressive spring performance from the former Alabama and Oregon State quarterback, McElwain did not feel ready to name Del Rio his starting quarterback for the 2016 season and will instead allow the competition to continue over the summer.
“Early in the spring, he was trying to press and I thought was somewhat out of character of how he has to play to be successful,” McElwain said after the game of Del Rio. “[He] did a good job of sliding in the pocket and taking his eyes where he needed to with the pressure. I thought he was pretty good.”
Considering how decisive the victory for Del Rio’s team was, McElwain made note that something clearly needs to be addressed on the other side of the football. With that being the case, it is wise to take some time to go back and review the film and see what went well and what needs work and how much that influences the stats put up by Del Rio (and any other player for that matter).
Regardless, Del Rio exits the spring with the right kind of momentum needed to make a push for the starting nod when Florida opens the 2016 season at home against UMass on September 3.