No. 21 Florida is turning to a familiar face to fix an all-too-familiar problem.
Luke Del Rio will get another chance as the team’s starting quarterback when the Gators (2-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) host Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday.
Coach Jim McElwain made the switch Monday, giving Del Rio the nod after he benched redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks for the second time in three games.
“It’s not to say Feleipe won’t start again,” said McElwain, whose offense ranks 113th in the nation and next-to-last in the SEC. “It’s one of those deals where he continues to get better.”
Given the way McElwain has shuffled quarterbacks this season, there’s no guarantee Del Rio will even finish the game against the Commodores. Following a 28-27 victory at Kentucky, McElwain alluded to former Florida coach and current program ambassador Steve Spurrier for his penchant for changing signal callers.
“There was a coach around here for a long time that used to throw quarterbacks in here and there at the drop of a hat,” McElwain said. “We may have learned something from him.”
Del Rio came off the bench against the Wildcats and completed 9 of 14 passes for 74 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to uncovered Freddie Swain with 43 seconds remaining. His TD pass gave Florida its only lead of the game and its 31st consecutive victory in the series.
McElwain said the offense clicked a little better with Del Rio under center.
“We needed a jump-start,” McElwain said. “It was like, sometimes, maybe not all cylinders were hitting. And I think he came in and gave us that boost.”
Franks was 7-of-12 passing for 85 yards and a touchdown in two-plus quarters against the Wildcats. After failing to complete a pass in two possessions to start the third quarter, McElwain turned to Del Rio with the Gators trailing 24-14.
Del Rio threw an interception to end his first series, but the Gators scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to extend the longest current winning streak against a single opponent in major college football.
“He was just telling us that we were going to win the game,” receiver Brandon Powell said. “He wasn’t afraid of making a mistake. … He came to the sideline and was still telling us that we were going to win the game. That showed. He was getting the ball to his playmakers and was making plays for them.”
McElwain also replaced Franks with Malik Zaire in the season opener against Michigan. McElwain said Franks has handled getting benched in stride.
“I think he’s done a great job of sitting and looking,” McElwain said. “I think he played well at times through the previous game. It’s never fun, and yet, when you learn from it, this guy is going to be a really good player, and he is now. There are some things he can continue to learn and work on, and he’ll do that moving forward.”
Franks has completed 30 of 49 passes for 372 yards this season, with three touchdowns and an interception. Although he has thrown plenty of decent passes, most notably a 63-yarder on the final play to beat Tennessee, he has yet to command the huddle or make all the right checks and protections adjustments needed.
Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, started six games last year before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. Del Rio was 5-1 as the starter, playing through a badly sprained throwing shoulder and a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He also tore the labrum in his left shoulder against Georgia and tried to play the following week at Arkansas, a disastrous decision that aided a double-digit loss.
“It’s been a tough road coming back being healthy, competing my butt off in camp,” Del Rio said. “Sometimes you just need to shake things up and get a spark.”
Republished with permission from the Associated Press.