From the despair of the loss to Tennessee Saturday, the Florida Gators received some good news: starting quarterback Luke Del Rio returned to practice Wednesday.
That does not mean he will play in Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt.
Indeed, he is listed as “highly doubtful,” but Coach Jim McElwain said he is not “counting him out.”
Del Rio’s participation will be limited to throwing to receivers on certain pass routes. He will not be involved in all that goes with practicing with the No. 1 unit.
“We’ll just take a look and see how it goes and how he kind of responds from there,” said McElwain on the SEC coaches’ teleconference.
If McElwain and the Gators can get the same type of performance from backup Austin Appleby as they did at Tennessee, that should be more than enough to handle the Commodores. The graduate transfer from Purdue completed 23 of 39 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception against the Volunteers.
Granted, the second half was far less productive than the first half. At the same time, the closest similarity between Vanderbilt and the Volunteers is that both schools are located in the same state.
Appleby will go up against a defense ranked 102nd out of 128 FBS teams, giving up 452 yards per game. There will likely be only one-third as many people in the stands Saturday as there were at Knoxville last Saturday when nearly 110,000 were wishing bad things for Appleby and the Gators.
Despite these realities and the danger of overlooking Vandy, motivation should not be a factor. Coming off a tough loss is one thing, but those players on last year’s team will vividly recall Florida’s narrow escape over the Commodores at The Swamp.
By returning to practice, McElwain and his staff can look toward to Del Rio possibly returning next week when the Gators host LSU. That can wait. The focus now is on winning a game they are supposed to win.