As the Florida Gators were clinging to a closer than expected 19-0 lead against North Texas State late in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game, Gator Nation let out a collective gasp when starting quarterback Luke Del Rio went down with an apparent knee injury.
While Del Rio lay on the turf in obvious pain and trainers tended to his injury, fans were left watching replays of a low hit by Mean Green defensive end Josh Wheeler that would take him out of the game for good.
From Gainesville to Seattle fans were groaning with sighs of “here we go again.”
Backup quarterback and grad transfer Austin Appleby was left to replace Del Rio and speculation began almost immediately as to what would happen to the Gator offense which had finally been showing some semblance of what fans hoped for when Jim McElwain was hired to replace Will Muschamp.
The Monday Morning Quarterback says relax Gator Nation and step away from the ledge.
I know, I know, your tired.
Tired of watching Gator starting quarterbacks go down or go out.
I feel your pain.
I know, you’ve seen this act before and it always seems to derail a promising Gator season.
I know you follow Gator Twitter and you think Austin Appleby is trash. He’s a washed out Purdue retread. He couldn’t make it as a starter in the Big Ten, how’s he going to do in the SEC?
Well forget what you heard.
To steal and paraphrase a line from Lord of the Rings: there may come a time when the mighty Gators lose to Tennessee, but it is not this day.
Here’s three reasons why The Monday Morning Quarterback believes you have nothing to fear but fear itself.
1) This is why they brought in Appleby.
“Trust the staff” has been a big motto on social media and message boards. If nothing else they’ve proven that they have a plan and make solid decisions to execute it.
When Will Grier went out last season they knew what they had in Del Rio and knew that they would need a capable backup just in case.
They also knew Treon wasn’t the answer. When they brought in Appleby they weren’t just bringing in a warm body they were bringing in an experienced, capable quarterback with a strong arm and good smarts.
He wasn’t brought in to compete for the starting job, he was brought in to run this offense in the event Del Rio went down allowing the two freshman quarterbacks to sit for a year while they learned to play the position at this level.
So here we are. Del Rio is down for at least two weeks and with a huge road game coming up next week at Tennessee, the staff is confident in their decision to bring in Appleby.
The Monday Morning Quarterback believes you should be too.
Trust the staff. It’s not just a motto.
2) History favors the Gators
They have beaten the Vols eleven straight times. In many of those games the Gators came in with much worse teams than what they will field on Saturday and and still left with a victory.
There is precedent here for backup quarterbacks having success against this Tennessee team.
Twice in last three years they beat the Vols with back up quarterbacks leading them to victory including two years ago at Tennessee with Treon Harris coming on in relief of an ineffective Jeff Driskel.
The year before it was Tyler Murphy relieving the injured Driskel to lead the Gators to victory.
Both times the backup had to come in mid-game with no preparation.
This year the staff has a full week to get Appleby prepared.
I like the odds.
The Monday Morning Quarterback believes you should too.
Heck even the much maligned Driskel beat them in Knoxville in 2012 in Muschamp’s pedestrian offense.
This is a much more potent offense AND defense the Gators will walk into Neyland stadium with on Saturday afternoon.
Better than any Gator team since 2009.
And, they have a chip on their shoulder feeling slighted by the media with all the preseason prognostications of Tennessee being the favorite in the SEC East and being sleeper picks for the national title.
3) The matchups favor the Gators.
The Gators defense leads the nation in total defense giving up only 389 total yards in three games an average of only 128.7 yards per game.
Conversely the Tennessee offense is ranked #101 in the nation in total offense averaging only 351 yards per game, a full 115 yards less per game than the Gators (466).
That’s the million dollar matchup.
Coming in to the season, popular opinion was that the Vols were the SEC East favorites largely on the strength of an improved offense that features the dual threat Josh Dobbs at quarterback along with running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
But three games in they’ve been less than stellar. While the rushing attack hasn’t been bad averaging 189 yards per game, the passing attack has. They limp into this matchup #109 in the nation averaging only 162 passing yards per game a full 103 yards per game less than the Gators.
While the three headed Volunteer rushing attack appears to be their strength, the Gators come in even stronger at #2 in the nation against the run having given up only 127 total rushing yards in three games a 42.3 ypg average.
Perhaps even more interesting is that the Vols have given up 25 more yards per game (152.7) than the Gators have given up overall (127). While the Gators rushing attack has averaged 202 yards per game.
On third down, money down as they like to call it, the Gators are third in the nation converting 58% of their attempts (29-50) while their defense has limited opponents to a paltry 7-36 (19.4%) conversion rate.
While Tennessee’s defense has been ok on third down (15-46, 32.6%) their offense hasn’t been very efficient at all (17-43, 39.5%).
All signs point to this being a different game than last year when Dobbs and Hurd had a field day. The depth and talent of the Gators front seven look to be too strong and the running lanes look to be closed as the Gators biggest defensive strength appears to be their gap soundness and sideline speed.
What does it all mean?
The Gators likely won’t need Appleby to be a hero.
I know, that’s crazy, right?
But, realistically, if they can continue to run the ball effectively and the Gator defense can shut down the Tennessee running game, and odds are Dobbs can’t beat them with his arm, they should have no problem walking out with consecutive win number 12 in the series.
Which means, Gator Nation, that you can step away from the ledge, take the noose off your neck, and relax in spite of Del Rio’s injury.
The Gators should be just fine.
I’m the Monday Morning Quarteback and I’m out!