Florida Football Friday Final: Gators seek much-needed rebound with pressure on Billy Napier

By OnlyGators.com Staff
October 6, 2023
Florida Football Friday Final: Gators seek much-needed rebound with pressure on Billy Napier

Image Credit: Mallory Peak, UAA

It’s been a rough week for Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier. Coming out of an excruciating road loss to Kentucky, which usurped Florida’s spot in the AP Top 25, the Gators return home where they have been far more successful under Napier — this time for homecoming as they host the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Though Vanderbilt is only 2-4 on the season, it is averaging 31.3 points per game and scored twice as many points against Kentucky (28 on Sept. 23) as Florida (14 last week). Meanwhile, the Gators are mired in frustration with Napier spending the week answering questions about the program’s pitiful road performance last Saturday.

Let’s not forget that Florida lost to Vanderbilt last season for the second time in the last 10 years. The Gators had not been defeated by the ‘Dores across 22 seasons since 1988 prior to that 2013 loss.

In other words, the pressure is on for Florida to not just win but bounce back and win handily on Saturday. And Napier, to his credit, did not shy away from taking responsibility for the failures of last week.

“After meeting with the leadership group, there is urgency. And certainly being with the staff all day [Sunday], there’s urgency to do everything better,” Napier said Monday. “Ultimately, all these things are my responsibility. … So, I can do my job better for our players and for our staff. And I would say that’s probably the consensus among all our players and all our staff members.”

He continued: “I like what I hear from our players, just spending time with them here [Sunday] and then certainly [Monday] having met with the leadership group, accountability group earlier. It’s good when your players have perspective, and they are passionate about wanting to do better, and they have insight to where the team is at and the things that need to be done better. Proud of the things that I’ve heard from our young people, our players the last few days.”

Napier repeated multiple times that there was “no sugarcoating” the Gators’ performance, one in which they lost battles up front and were outclassed in explosive plays, turnovers, hidden yardage and penalties.

“I’m not up here to make any excuses,” he concluded. ”There’s nobody that wants to have more success than this group of players, and ultimately, I feel responsibility to do a better job for them. It’s that simple.”

Revisiting how Florida responded after practice Wednesday, Napier was pleased with what he saw from the team. That was not necessarily the case the last two weeks as he previously criticized the Gators for how they prepared ahead of the Charlotte and Kentucky games.

“Good energy out there [Wednesday]. I thought we flew around. Certainly finished strong, thought it was competitive, especially the good-on-good periods,” he said. “… It was a spirited day, and ultimately tired of talking about it, I know you guys are, too, so at this point it’s all about action, and it’s about our attitude. We can talk about all these things until we’re blue in the face. We want to see actions, and we want to see the right attitude.”

Dire (offensive) straits

The Gators are facing myriad issues in their second season under Napier, but perhaps none is more significant than the program’s stagnant, unproductive offense.

Out of 133 FBS teams, Florida ranks 116th in third-down conversion rate (.327) and 115th on fourth downs (.300), 91st in scoring offense (25.0 points), 68th in total offense (392.6 yards), 86th in rushing offense (140.6 yards), 52nd in passing offense (252.0 yards) and 85th in sacks allowed (2.40 per game).

This despite the Gators only playing three Power Five opponents to this point.

“We’re very inconsistent. We have individual players that play inconsistent, and ultimately, offense is a precise game. It requires 11 players to execute. And we need to coach better, and we need to play better,” Napier explained. “There are certain areas on our team where we can do better, and ultimately, the back half of the year we’re hopeful that we can improve.”

It has been a point of conversation since Year 1 that Napier would be better off with a true offensive coordinator who calls plays, ensuring the onus is not left on his own shoulders. Upon taking over Florida, Napier decided to design the offense, calls the plays and coach the quarterbacks himself.

It has not only proven too much for him to handle, it became apparent he was not adept at it. Though Napier maintained he will continue calling the plays for the Gators this week – and presumably through the season – he did provide an interesting answer when asked whether he’s considered giving up those responsibilities.

“Everything that we do is always being evaluated. One of the things that’s challenging as a leader, when you have a core responsibility, if there’s things in that area that can be done better, you’ve got to be able to tell yourself the truth,” he said. “And I would tell you, I’m a lot more critical of myself than anybody on the outside is. And I’ve said it publicly, there’s no sugarcoating this thing. We have no excuse. We can coach better, and we can play better. I’m hopeful we will do that.”

Notes & quotes

On signs the Gators are heading in the right direction: “We’re getting better at our process. We have young players that are getting experience, that are growing and developing. We have veteran players that have improved as people and as leaders, and we play good football at times.”

On whether there are similarities in the rebuild at Florida compared to Louisiana: “I’ve got a ton of confidence in what we do and how we do it. We didn’t play well Saturday, but that doesn’t change my belief in what we do and how we do it. Reality is you’ve got to always be have the ability to adapt. We’ve adapted in the past. … Part of coaching is evolving based off the personnel you have, the strengths and weaknesses, what skill players do you have that year, what type of quarterback do you have. We’ve done that in the past, and we’ll continue to do that.”

On whether criticism of his leadership has crossed the line: “It’s part of the job. It’s what you sign up for. Look, we get to coach football for a living. We’re well compensated. If we don’t do well, we deserve to be criticized. … I would like to think my standards and our standards are more demanding than anyone from the outside to some degree. There’s a perspective element to it, as well, relative to the body of work. You watch football when you have an opportunity. Every team has its own set of issues and problems. We have ours. We control our work and we control our attitude toward the work. We need to come up with solutions. We have to be solution-oriented. I’m hopeful we can do that.”

On freshman wide receiver Andy Jean getting more playing time: “Andy’s opportunities have been increasing because he’s been preparing better, showing a better grasp, practicing better, more efficient, more productive, performing in practice. We’ve been playing him here the last couple of weeks as a result of that. .. Andy’s role will definitely grow here. It was good to see him be able to execute and to get some experience. That’s going to help his confidence. You can just see it. He got a chance to play in the Charlotte game and experience some success. Sometimes, a young, talented player — when they experience some success — that kind of fuels the fire, and then they show up to practice a little bit different, right? We’ve got a number of players that are like that. Andy’s a good example.”

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