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Thursday, January 27, 2022
<p>Quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) drops back to pass during Florida's Orange &amp; Blue Debut on April 8, 2016, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.</p>

Quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) drops back to pass during Florida's Orange & Blue Debut on April 8, 2016, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Jim McElwain slammed his hand on the side of the lectern during his Monday press conference, but he wasn’t angry.

Florida’s head coach was simply excited — excited at the thought of opening up the season in the Swamp on Saturday.

“Thinking about it now, I’m getting jacked up!” McElwain said.

Kicking off the season at home is nothing new — the Gators have done so each of the last 28 years — but McElwain, in his second year at UF, is still getting used to it.

One reason for his excitement is starting quarterback Luke Del Rio, whom McElwain has expressed a ton of confidence in since naming him the starter nearly two weeks ago.

“There seems to be a real settling in there as far as that voice in the huddle, which is a good thing,” McElwain said of Del Rio.

In just four days, Florida fans will get their first look at a Del Rio-led offense still full of question marks.

Except for sophomore Antonio Callaway, who McElwain said should be cleared by the university to play Saturday, every receiver is young or unproven. The same goes for a running back group headlined by sophomores Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite and redshirt junior Mark Thompson.

But the most glaring question lies in the offensive line.

Last season, it surrendered an FBS-most 45 sacks. And with a couple of sophomores on the right side in Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson, who started a combined five games between each other last season, it will have to step up for Florida’s offense to be effective.

“We have a lot of guys that were playing as freshmen last year,” Del Rio said. “But I have all the confidence in the world that they’re gonna get it done.”

Del Rio and McElwain hope to show that this is a different Florida team than the one that finished 2015 with three-straight losses.

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“Pretty miserable, wasn’t it?” McElwain said of the finish.

But with Del Rio, there’s an aura of comfort — one that didn’t exist with former quarterback Treon Harris last year.

Despite what will mark his first start for the Gators on Saturday, Del Rio has more experience than most backups.

He walked on at Alabama in 2013 before joining Oregon State’s team in 2014.

And last season, he learned UF’s offense while sitting out due to transfer rules.

Yet McElwain knows Del Rio will need time to gain a rhythm.

“It’s almost like we expect him to do things a little bit like a veteran in how he approaches it and the decisions we make,” McElwain said, “and yet we’ve got to be conscious of the fact that, I don’t care who you are, this is the first time being out there and being the leader of the Florida Gators.”

Contact Patrick Pinak at ppinak@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @pinakk12.

Quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) drops back to pass during Florida's Orange & Blue Debut on April 8, 2016, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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