By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida coach Jim McElwain ended up making a quarterback change after all.
He had no choice this time. The 22nd-ranked Gators will be without quarterback Luke Del Rio “for a while,” maybe even the rest of the season, because of a right shoulder injury.
“It’s bad, man,” McElwain said Monday. “When you can’t lift your duffel bag up, chances are something’s hurt, right?” The banged-up Gators (6- 2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) also will be down three more starters Saturday against South Carolina, and two of those are out for the year. Center Cam Dillard (knee) and linebackers Jarrad Davis (ankle) and Alex Anzalone (arm) won’t play against the Gamecocks. Dillard and Anzalone are out for the season.
Losing Davis and Anzalone would seemingly create huge holes in Florida’s defense, which ranks second in the SEC in yards allowed. David Reese and fellow freshman Kylan Johnson are expected to fill in for them. “Those guys have played,” McElwain said. “You know what? They’re going to play a bunch this week.”
There was speculation Del Rio was going to get benched after another sub- par performance. He threw two interceptions in a 31-10 loss at Arkansas on Saturday, looked uncomfortable in the pocket and showed little accuracy or arm strength on deep passes. Turns out he was playing in pain.
“He was banged up,” said McElwain, who considered pulling him at halftime against the Razorbacks and acknowledged Monday he should have made the switch. “Played that way. And, you know, looking at myself in the mirror, we should have made a change at halftime, and yet part of the reason we didn’t, obviously, we didn’t know the severity of it.” McElwain said Del Rio was getting more tests to determine the extent of the injury. “You could tell that he was in some pain at times, but I mean that kid is a fighter,” receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. “Even if he was (hurt), he was going to make sure that he was going to finish that game. He gave us all that he’s got.”
Purdue transfer Austin Appleby probably will get the nod Saturday, although McElwain left open the possibility of going with Kyle Trask or fellow freshman Feleipe Franks against the Gamecocks (5-4, 3-4).
Appleby completed 42 of 67 passes for 440 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception, in two starts in place of Del Rio earlier this season. Appleby was at his best in the first half at Tennessee, but he was fairly pedestrian in six quarters since.
Del Rio returned from a sprained left knee against Missouri on Oct. 15 but wasn’t the same against the Tigers, Georgia and Arkansas. He had two touchdowns and six interceptions in those games.
His shoulder injury happened in the second quarter against the Razorbacks. He landed awkwardly on it and was holding it before halftime and icing it afterward.
“He’s a tough guy. Never said anything,” McElwain said. “It speaks for him and the guys were ready to come out. And yet, you know, we didn’t execute. Like I said, had I known the severity, probably wouldn’t have done that.”
The injuries could hinder Florida’s chances of winning the SEC’s Eastern Division. The Gators can clinch the division if they beat South Carolina on Saturday and Kentucky upsets Tennessee. Florida also could secure a spot in Atlanta for the second straight year by beating the Gamecocks and then winning at LSU next week.
“It’s not about the East,” McElwain said. “It’s about getting yourself a little bit better every day. At times we do that. This last week, we didn’t. … It was my responsibility to build on the different blocks that help you be successful, not only as a player but successful in life. When you take a look at (that), like I said, it’s very humbling.”