When Austin Appleby walks into Neyland Stadium on Saturday to lead his team against No. 14 Tennessee, it will mark the fifth time in the last three years a backup quarterback has started a game for Florida.
Coach Jim McElwain is looking forward to it.
“He’s been in Big Ten stadiums. Now he gets to go to a real fun place to play in the SEC,” McElwain said. “Everybody can see what the heck you’re doing.”
Since 2013, former backups Treon Harris, Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg have each started at least one game for UF.
Harris replaced starter Will Grier in 2015 and Jeff Driskel in 2014, throwing for 271 yards and 27 yards, respectively.
Next was Tyler Murphy, who finished with 156 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 2013 game after taking over for Driskel.
Finally, Skyler Mornhinweg replaced Murphy later in 2013, and had just 107 yards and one interception.
But Appleby has repeatedly preached one significant difference between him and past UF quarterbacks — experience.
“It’s just another game,” Appleby said. “I’ve been to Nebraska, I’ve been to Ohio State, I’ve been to Michigan State, I’ve been to Penn State. The conference, the stadium’s are the same.
“At the end of the day, it’s all noise.”
Appleby went 2-9 in 11 career starts at Purdue and threw 19 interceptions in 17 games.
Most of his playing time came in 2014, when he played in 10 games for the Boilermakers. That year, he finished 99th in the nation in passing yards per game (144.9) and failed to crack the Big 10’s top 10 in passing yards per game or passing efficiency.
“Everything that happened at Purdue, in my opinion — the good, bad and indifferent — has prepared me for right now,” Appleby said.
With quarterback Luke Del Rio sidelined for at least 2-4 weeks after spraining the MCL in his left knee against North Texas, McElwain said Florida will be forced to tweak their offense, molding it around Appleby’s strengths. Teammates said Appleby is more mobile than Del Rio and that his 6-foot-4 frame (three inches taller than Del Rio) will help him recognize pressure easier and elude defenders in the pocket.
“He’s a lot bigger. He can move around very well,” safety Marcus Maye said. “He knows where to go with the ball.”
McElwain said it will be challenging to prepare for Saturday’s game with a new signal caller. On Monday, the coach announced all of UF’s practices would be closed to the media this week in order to implement new strategies and offensive plays.
“(Appleby) does some things differently, so we’re going to have to highlight some of those things. At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that Feleipe (Franks) and Kyle (Trask) are ready as well,” McElwain said. “But that’s what makes it fun.”