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Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: UF has a quarterback problem, and it may lead to Del Rio's benching

<p>Luke Del Rio looks to the sideline for instruction during Florida's 24-10 win over Georgia on Oct. 29, 2016, in Jacksonville.</p>

Luke Del Rio looks to the sideline for instruction during Florida's 24-10 win over Georgia on Oct. 29, 2016, in Jacksonville.

Luke Del Rio dropped back and tried to squeeze a slant pass in too tight a window to his first-year receiver, Tyrie Cleveland.

The ball popped up into the hands of Arkansas safety Santos Ramirez, who returned it for a pick-six on Florida’s first offensive snap in the 31-10 loss on Saturday.

“It (was) on me,” Del Rio said.

The unsettling pass was only the first of many, however, leading UF coach Jim McElwain to ponder benching his starting quarterback.

“We just didn’t do it,” he said. “But it crossed our minds.”

And with the College Football Playoff now out of the question, McElwain needs to consider a positional change under center if the Gators hope to win the SEC East.

Del Rio, after all, has thrown six interceptions and just two touchdowns over his last three games.

That just won’t cut it, especially in two weeks against an LSU defense that feasts in Death Valley.

But there’s one problem: Florida really doesn’t have a clear-cut solution to its quarterback woes.

McElwain could stick with the struggling Del Rio, who may still be affected by a lingering knee injury. Or he could call upon the services of backup Austin Appleby, who looked paltry in six quarters after an eye-popping first half at Tennessee.

The final option would be one of the raw freshmen quarterbacks, Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask, though that’s a move McElwain likely doesn’t feel comfortable with due to their inexperience.

Regardless, McElwain might have to consider shaking things up.

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Del Rio’s poor play was excusable up to this point mainly because the Gators were winning, which McElwain even hinted at after the team’s 24-10 win over Georgia.

“Did we win?” he asked after reflecting on his quarterback’s performance.

“Ok. Good. All right. Just wanna make sure.”

But four quarters later in Fayetteville, McElwain wasn’t making excuses.

Neither was Del Rio.

The redshirt sophomore assumed the blame for his bad throws, most of which were due to poor accuracy and execution.

Two glaring examples came in the second quarter, when Del Rio underthrew Antonio Callaway on a deep post route that fell into a Razorbacks safety’s hands for a second interception. Just a possession prior, he overshot a streaking Callaway down the sideline that likely would’ve resulted in six points.

“I need to be more consistent in my decision making and my accuracy,” Del Rio said.

“Guys have done their job. I need to do mine.”

While Del Rio will probably start against South Carolina, McElwain will be faced with an ultimatum if he flops out of the gate.

Then what, McElwain?

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

Luke Del Rio looks to the sideline for instruction during Florida's 24-10 win over Georgia on Oct. 29, 2016, in Jacksonville.

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