Kan Li / Scout

Game Day Headquarters: Florida vs UMass

The Florida Gators will look for Luke Del Rio to lead them into the 2016 season. The No. 25 Gators take on Massachusetts in a game that shouldn’t be close, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any questions heading into the contest. Del Rio and how he plays this year is the first thing to consider by many.

#25 Florida Gators (0-0) vs.  UMass Minutemen (0-0)

Saturday September 3, 2016; 7:30 P.M.

Gainesville, Florida; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium


As the Gators set forth on Florida head coach Jim McElwain’s second season as the head coach, he has settled on his redshirt sophomore quarterback that has been around the team for the last two years. That time has given Luke Del Rio a leg up on learning things, but also showing the head man that he is the one that can lead this team.

"To me, No. 1, you got to be a winner,” McElwain told the Florida media this week when asked what he looks for in a signal caller. “And you got to be a little bit of a gym rat. The people around you have to see your love of the game and then how you prepare. In Luke's case, he's won some games as a high school quarterback at different programs and he saw what it was like in a program in our league. So the best quality, I don't know. He's got really nice parents."

Something that sets Del Rio apart from the others in the quarterback race so far is his ability to make the right decisions with the ball. That includes, maybe most importantly, staying away from the bad play.

"As you know, my gig is throwing it to the open guy and be smart with the ball,” McElwain said. “When you get sloppy with the ball that gives the opponent an opportunity to beat you. So not to downplay it, but it's kind of when you're back there dealing it… Kenny Rogers sang a song, 'Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em', and to me that's a quality of a good quarterback. Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em." 

 McElwain was the first to offer the well-traveled Del Rio when he was the head coach at Colorado State. The young man ended up walking on at Alabama not afraid of competition, but McElwain knew back then he was always well prepared. He thinks playing in The Swamp is going to be a lot like

“The guy was a winner and he’s really a gym rat. And when you look at his completions and touchdowns or turnovers, he’s very efficient, which tells me that he’s really a good decision-maker. Now how’s that going to be the first time he steps foot in front of The Swamp and 90,000-plus? I don’t know. We’ll find out. But I don’t think the arena is going to be too big for him.”

If you are able to watch the little moments in practice that the media are allowed to watch at the beginning, you see the little pieces of the pie that help make Del Rio a team guy. During warm ups, he will smack around the defensive guys and make sure they are ramped up for practice. A taunt here and a verbal jab there. He stokes his offensive teammates the same way. He would expect them to act the same toward him.

It is the kind of thing that has the team ready to follow their new leader.

“You know there’s something to be said about treating others the way you’d like to be treated, and giving up yourself for the benefit of others,” McElwain said. “Those guys are usually leaders. Not just in football, I’m talking about in life. There (are) certain people you want to hang around with. Well, that’s kind of what you want your quarterback to be.”

Ask the teammates and they will tell you that they are comfortable at the quarterback position even though every one of them is new from a year ago.

“Much better,” starting left tackle David Sharpe said this week. “I feel we have depth at quarterback. All three guys can do it, get the job done. Luke Del Rio, we’re very confident in him, feel like he’s a great leader and he’s confident enough to get the job done too.”

“We can trust in him, give him time and he can get the job done.”



This should be a big mismatch. As much as Florida has turned over a lot of personnel this year, UMass has even more new personnel to play in 2016.  You can get a rundown of this UMass team in Behind Enemy Lines by Jacquie Francois, just click on the link.

This game will be all about what Florida can do. How efficient will this Florida offense be against an outmanned, yet multiple and complex defense that the Minutemen will throw at the Gators.

We should expect a breakdown or two, but inevitably it shouldn’t matter. The talent gap should be too great on both sides of the ball.

On defense, Florida will have to stop sophomore running back Marquis Young as Mark Whipple will look to lean on Young while trying to groom a new quarterback and receivers. The Gators have stars at every level on defense, so this should be a pretty gross mismatch outside of some gimmicky scheme that catches them off guard.

This is an opportune time for Florida to show a balanced, yet high octane offense. The Gators are hoping to have a strong running and passing game in 2016 and getting off to an efficient start should lead to putting points on the board in a big way in this contest. Just get the ball in the playmakers hands in open space and they should be crossing the goal line.

Defensively, the trenches should be a total mismatch and it is hard to imagine the Minutemen slowing this Gator front down. We need to see pressure, pressure, pressure up front. If that happens as expected, the rest of the defense will clean up in various ways.

If we see anything on special teams, we just want to see the ball sail through the uprights, hopefully every time it is kicked for that purpose. All eyes will be on Eddy Pineiro to jump start a part of the team that was a game killer a year ago. He needs to get some jitters out in this game.

Predicted Score: Gators 48  Minutemen  6


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