“It hasn’t hit me yet," said the senior quarterback. "It’s a roller coaster of a year. It was an unbelievable year, it was a trying year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. These guys in that locker room, these coaches, it’s truly special at Florida.”
It was not the best of start for the Gators offense and signal caller, however. Appleby threw two picks on Florida's first two drives of the game.
“We didn’t panic early," said Appleby. "It was about as unlucky as I've been at the casino this week. You just keep swinging. Two balls get tipped. We had guys open both times. We knew that they weren't going to be able to stop us if we just kept being patient and taking what they give us.
"It was really, really good for our offense to not panic early, and I don't think we did. It was just like 'hey, this is how it goes, our defense will give it right back to us. We've got a great game plan, we're moving the ball there, they aren't doing anything to stop us.' We just kind of rolled that in. I'm really excited, really pleased. Just really thrilled with the way nobody flinched, and once we got it rolling, the floodgates kind of opened up like the way that we've been waiting for it to happen all year."
It also helps that the Gators can always rely on their defense to keep things close. Randy Shannon's men certainly stepped up in a big way when they stopped Iowa on the goal line in the second quarter.
"That fourth down stop was huge," he said. "We rely on them all year just like they rely on us. Definitely, that was a big momentum swing for us to keep us in the lead. It was 3-3 at that point. Then, we went right back and answered. Definitely, that was huge for us to make sure that we stayed in our game.”
That stop allowed the offense to build some momentum which happened minutes later, when Mark Thompson took a screen pass from Appleby over 80-yards to the end zone.
"I’m going to go tell everybody that I have an 80-yard bomb," Appleby joked. "But it’s awesome that our offensive line, the way No. 1 that they hustled down the field to go get those blocks and set them. We do screen drill every day and kind of just go through the motions. Those guys don’t like to do it because they’ve got to run over.
"For us to get that big start going into that situation, try to get some points before the half, it’s something that gets you rolling. Those guys that hustled like they did and chose the right blocks and get us all the way to the marker, it’s huge for us. It meant a lot.”
Although Appleby had a shaky start to the game, he was able to finish going 14 of 22 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. After the win, Appleby was able to speak with head coach Jim McElwain.
“He said he’s proud of me. He’s proud of us and the way we fought, the way I fought. He said he’s so proud of all these freshmen that first walked on campus about this time last year.”
With his career at Florida drawing to a close, Appleby says he never regretted his decision of coming to Gainesville.
"A dream come true," he said about his time as a Gator. "It's been a whirlwind. Nothing was promised. Had to earn and fight and scratch and claw to earn the respect of my teammates. Then when I finally got an opportunity I wanted to make the most of it. The thing I'm going to remember most is just these guys and the way they've embraced me since Day 1.
We've got the best locker room in the country. I'm going to have friends for the rest of my life," added Appleby. "It's just been truly a dream come true for a little kid that grew up wanting to be a Florida Gator and thought that his dream might not come true early in his college career. Just having the opportunity to come here and watch it all come full-circle and be sitting here after a bowl victory is something I'll never forget."
Future is Bright
On Gators Defense
"We've got an unbelievable job of recruiting that our coaches do. We've got players that come into our program ready to play. They're expecting to play. That's the standard. There's no, 'Oh, I'm going to sit back and redshirt and I'm going to wait my turn.' The expectation when you come to Florida is that you're coming to compete and you're coming to help us win a championship from day one. I saw that in my first year. I kind of did the same thing, but I've got so much confidence in our offense that's young and everybody's back. I think I'm the only guy leaving. And our defense, absolutely. We're losing some guys on the outside, we're losing a lot of key pieces, but Florida has always reloaded."
On the Offensive Line
"The sky's the limit for these guys when they want to. The key for them is that maturation process of understanding just how good they are, and they don't need somebody to disrespect them and they don't need to be motivated by somebody on the outside to go out there and kick someone's butt each and every play. When those guys make that collective decision to themselves that they're going to be the baddest dudes in the country because we can and we are, you know, they'll show what they're capable of. They do it in flashes. I'm so happy for these guys today because it was another opportunity for them to really play on the other side of the line of scrimmage, which we were challenged to do against an Iowa team that shutdown a lot of great offenses. Especially in the run game. That's what they hang their hat on stopping, and we really got the run game going. I'm proud of these guys."
"From Day 1 when they got here and they didn't know how to call a play in the huddle, they had no idea who a Mike was, to now where they're able to command and run the offense, I gave each of those guys help and told them I'm here for them, whatever they need. It's so cool to see them grow. It's so cool to watch them learn from Luke and myself. The Gator program is in very, very good hands with these young guys. The only people that are going to get in their way is them. It's up to them to take everything that they've learned, to take the things that they've learned from the guys that have played before them, the good and the bad, the way that we prepared throughout the week and the way that we affect our teammates in a positive way, to take that stuff and move forward. I'm so excited for those guys, I'm their biggest fan and I can't wait to watch them."
WHERE DO YOU SEE MCELWAIN TAKING PROGRAM LONG-TERM?
"To a national championship. As he continues to get the pieces he needs, as he continues to get the resources and bring the guys he needs in, the more that this Gator fanbase and media can support him in what he's doing and not question what he's doing, the more that he's going to be able to bring this program to the top. We're not far off. If you go back and look at the year, we're a handful of plays away from playing next week, honestly. I truly believe that. I think we have enough talent to do it. We had enough talent. We're going to reload and have enough talent moving forward. I can't wait to watch what coach McElwain, coach Nuss and whoever the new defensive coordinator (is), the rest of the staff and these players do. I'm the biggest fan of the Gators, and I'm going to be forever."