Jim McElwain announced last week that – to no one’s surprise – Luke Del Rio would be the starting quarterback for Florida. Del Rio had a leg up in the competition because he had been in the system for more than a year, but he also had won the locker room.
Del Rio’s leadership qualities are something the Gators have lacked at the position because quarterback has been a revolving door the past six seasons (i.e., since Tim Tebow graduated). Each talented player that held the keys to the Gators’ offense lacked the true leadership quality to direct the attack.
Del Rio really started earning teammates' trust – offense and defense – in the weight room. McElwain said at media day that when it comes to playing quarterback, "the players around you have to believe in you, trust you and then elevate their play." It appears Del Rio has the first two ingredients; beginning September 3 against Massachusetts, we find out if he has the third.
Del Rio, a sophomore, played in three games with Oregon State in 2014. He was a combined 8-of-18 for 141 yards in reserve roles in losses to USC, Stanford and Oregon. That obviously is a small sample size, but at least he has seen big-time defenses. Against UMass, he'll face a defense that returns just three starters – and that's from a unit that was 104th nationally. Del Rio should be confident and I would expect his campaign to get off to a fast start.
There are three main areas where Del Rio can help the Gators improve.
1. Completion percentage
Florida quarterbacks completed just 56.5 percent of their passes last season, which was ninth in the SEC and 83rd nationally (the teams that were worse in the SEC were Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt – and LSU). McElwain's offense has averaged better than a 60 completion rate through his career. This number should go up as long as Del Rio makes the easy plays.
2. TD passes
Florida threw 20 TD passes last season, which actually was sixth-most in the SEC. While that was the most for the Gators since 2009, just six came in the final seven games. McElwain's offenses improved every year at Colorado State in this stat, including 34 TD passes in 2014.
3. First-down production
McElwain's offense at Alabama completed more than 70 percent of its throws on first down, and his 2014 Colorado State offense completed better than 65 percent. The Gators were below 60 percent last season and blew plenty of opportunities for big plays on first down.
Del Rio has his marching orders and the keys to the offense. It's time now to see if he can execute it and pull the Gators out of this six-year fog on offense. Florida averaged 457.9 yards per game in 2009; the Gators' highest average since then is 367.6 in 2014 and four times they've averaged 334.0 or fewer.
(You can follow Brady Ackerman on Twitter @bradyack)
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