GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Feleipe Franks lifted his left arm and showed where he scribbled a name in black marker.
Sweat and heavy rain had washed off much of the ink, but the four letters were still faintly visible on his wrist: “Luke.”
No. 21 Florida beat Vanderbilt 38-24 on Saturday despite losing starting quarterback Luke Del Rio for the season because of a broken left collarbone. It’s a potential crushing blow for a team trying to get to the Southeastern Conference championship game for the third consecutive year.
The Gators (3-1, 3-0 SEC) will now shift back to Franks, who was benched in two of his first three starts, and rely heavily on an emerging rushing attack.
If Lamical Perine and Malik Davis play like they did against the Commodores (3-2, 0-2), the Gators should have a good chance to win the Eastern Division again. Perine scored three touchdowns, and Davis added two more as Florida defeated the Commodores for the 26th time in the last 27 meetings.
Perine finished with 58 yards on 15 carries. Davis, a freshman, ran 17 times for 124 yards. His final run was huge. On a fourth-down play, Davis broke through the line, stumbled and then regained his footing for a 39-yard score that sealed the victory with 1:42 remaining.
“Eventually we’re going to break the wall down, man,” Franks said. “We’re going to be a really good team.”
It will have to happen without Del Rio. Coach Jim McElwain said the junior will have season-ending surgery Monday.
“Just feel horrible for him,” McElwain said. “Yet the guys rallied behind Feleipe.”
Franks replaced Del Rio in the second quarter and turned in his most effective performance of the season. The redshirt freshman completed 10 of 14 passes for 185 yards, including a 49-yarder to Tyrie Cleveland that was nearly as perfect as his last pass in The Swamp.
Franks and Cleveland hooked up for a 63-yarder on the final play to beat Tennessee 26-20 two weeks ago. Franks was benched last week at Kentucky and replaced by Del Rio, who rallied the Gators from a 13-point deficit.
Del Rio’s first start in nearly 11 months ended the same way as his last one — injured.
Del Rio rolled right to avoid Dare Odeyingbo, completed a pass to Brandon Powell and then got knocked to the ground. Del Rio was favoring his left shoulder as he walked off the field and to the locker room.
The son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio started six games last year before sustaining a season-ending injury to his right, throwing shoulder. Del Rio also partly tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and tore the labrum in his left shoulder. He had offseason surgery on both shoulders.
“It’s hard when that stuff happens, when you get hurt like that,” Franks said. “I can only imagine what he’s going through, him and his family. It’s emotional. I definitely wanted to keep him in my prayers, especially when I was out there on the field.
“You want to play for somebody, and that was one of the persons I wanted to play for because he’s done nothing but support and helped me the whole time I’ve been here at Florida. It hurts.”
Vanderbilt: The Commodores should feel good about playing another tight game against Florida, especially after last week’s 59-0 home debacle against top-ranked Alabama.
“I felt like our guys fought,” said Vandy receiver C.J. Duncan, who caught five passes for 75 yards. “I think that’s why this one hurts so much. … There’s no moral wins in this game and in this conference.”
Florida: The Gators improved to 16-3 in SEC regular-season games under McElwain. Winning close games has become his trademark.
The Gators tied an NCAA record by scoring in their 365th consecutive game.
Perine’s first touchdown run tied the NCAA mark set by Michigan between 1984 and 2014. Florida hasn’t been shut out since a 16-0 home loss to Auburn on Oct. 29, 1988. The Gators can break the record next week against LSU.