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Purdue transfer looks to lead Gators to 12th straight win over Vols

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Austin Appleby will lead the No. 19 Florida Gators head to Knoxville on Saturday to face the No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers. Austin who?

With Luke Del Rio sitting out the game due to the injury suffered in the North Texas game, graduate transfer Appleby is the next man up. Gator Nation has two basic questions.

Where did he come from? Is he any good?

Appleby played his undergraduate football at Purdue. If whether one is “any good” is defined by wins and losses, Appleby comes up short.

Last year he appeared in five games for the Boilermakers, going 1-4 in those games. He lost his starting job at one point.

The only win was against FCS opponent Indiana State. His last victory as a starting quarterback against an FBS opponent was a 38-27 victory over Illinois on October 4, 2014.

During his time at Purdue he threw for 2800 yards with 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He also rushed for nine touchdowns.

To be fair, Appleby performed well enough to win a few more games, but defense was a passing fancy, so to speak, at his former school. Purdue gave up an average of 37 points per game last year and 32 points in 2014.

It is not like an untested freshman will be thrown in front of more than 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. He has played in some large stadiums in the Big 10.

His last start on November 28, 2015 also came in a rivalry game. On that day he threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores in Purdue’s 54-36 loss to Indiana.

“It’s next man up,” said Gators’ running back Jordan Cronkrite after Saturday’s game. “We just rely on Austin now and take him under our wing and go out and execute (on Saturday).

Some would be quick to say this is the SEC and not the second division of the Big 10. They would be correct.

Tennessee’s defense is not Indiana’s. But at the same time, Florida’s defense is not Purdue’s. Appleby should not need to put up 35 points on the board.

The Gators are counting on Appleby to manage the game and not take significant risks. In other words, no turnovers and let the defense make a play or two while your offense makes a play or two.

Coach Jim McElwain is keeping it simple.

“We’ll work through (the transition) this week to see what gives us the best chance to be successful,” he said.

After all, Florida has won 11 straight in this series in different ways. They have put up 59 points and won with Tim Tebow. In 2007, while putting 10 points on the board and winning with Treon Harris in 2014.

The Gators seem to always find a way to beat Tennessee or the Vols find a way to lose to Florida.

Despite that, a Tennessee fan launched a GoFundMe page ostensibly to pay for Appleby’s funeral after they get through with him on Saturday. This is an interesting display of confidence for a program that has not beaten Florida since Jeb Bush was governor (and before he became Jimmy Kimmel’s limo driver).

If the Vols do not beat Florida on Saturday, perhaps the GoFundMe creator may need the proceeds for his own services.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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