Florida’s win over North Texas — a 32-0 victory in which the Gators allowed just 53 yards, the smallest tally in school history — on Saturday night was largely unremarkable on offense, legendarily stingy on defense, and fully forgettable on special teams.
Except for this: Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio left the game late in the third quarter after taking a low hit to the left knee, headed directly to the locker room, and did not return.
And though Del Rio walked off partially under his own power, coach Jim McElwain sounded disconsolate after the game in a postgame interview, saying that Florida “will probably be missing (Del Rio)” and strongly implying that the Gators will have to turn to Austin Appleby or other quarterbacks going forward.
That would be a significant blow to the Gators, who got four touchdown passes and more than 300 passing yards from Del Rio against Kentucky, and who trust him more than any other signal-caller on the roster even in less impressive performances, like Saturday night’s 187-yard, one-interception showing.
Florida has found a running game, getting touchdowns from all four of its running backs — sophomore Jordan Cronkrite, freshman Lamical Perine, sophomore Jordan Scarlett, and redshirt sophomore Mark Thompson — and seems to have one of the best defenses in the nation. Its receivers were mostly a mess on a night without Antonio Callaway being available, but there is talent at those positions. A year after ruinous special teams left Florida flailing at the margins, the Gators appear to have one of the nation’s finest punters, and a rocket-legged kicker.
A healthy, competent starting quarterback is just about the only thing that the Gators do not have that championship contenders do — and while Del Rio hadn’t necessarily fully qualified himself as “competent,” he was and is the Gator most likely to be that in the 2016 season.
Now Florida may not have him for the rest of that campaign.
All is not lost for these Gators. But the most important player may be.