Tennessee Review / Eastern Washington Preview

It was a gallant effort, but Florida sadly had too much to overcome defensively in a 38-33 loss on Rocky Top.  

Anthony Richardson bounced back from 2 dreadful weeks with his best performance as a Gator, accounting for almost 500 yards of offense, making some clutch throws, and running with more purpose than since the opener against Utah.  The offense ran a lot of plays and controlled the clock like it hoped to, but wasn’t good enough to overcome a few critical mistakes as well as a putrid defensive effort.  The only real disappointment was in the running game, where Tennessee jammed the LOS between the tackles and dared Florida to run outside.  The O-line struggled in run blocking, but did give AR enough time and room to make multiple big plays.  The WRs stepped up with their best game of the season.  Ricky Pearsall was great between the hash marks, Justin Shorter was finally allowed to use his size to outmaneuver smaller CBs, and the rest of the WRs and TEs had their share of catches.  I’d still like to see more throws to the RBs to help AR out when pressured, but at least for this game that is nitpicking, as overall the offense played a winning game.

The Gator defense was a no-show, getting embarrassed by Hendon Hooker both passing and running the football.  There are continued blown assignments in the secondary, especially by Trey Dean, who personally accounted for 2 Vol TDs with brain-lock lack of coverage.  The D-line was only marginally better, getting some occasional pressure and a few sacks, but never doing it consistently or stepping up to make a critical stop.  The LB corps was slightly better, but only when Ventrell Miller was in the game calling out the assignments and making some plays.  Once he re-aggravated his ankle injury, the unit fell back to it’s unsound ways in both filling the running lanes and in coverage.  There need to be some significant changes to both the personnel and schemes, because what they are trying to do isn’t working.  It’s stunning to see so many uncovered receivers, along with lack of attention to a mobile QB that can run when needed.

Now, as far as Billy Napier’s 4-down and 2-point conversion calls, that’s it’s own discussion.  I understand his aggression with the defense playing so poorly, knowing he had to try and give his offense as many snaps and scoring opportunities as possible.  That being said, I would have taken the FG on the first drive of the game, not just to give the offense some reward for an excellent opening drive, but also because those points came back to haunt him in the 4th quarter.  Which leads directly to the decision to go for 2 when Florida scored to close to 38-27.  Getting 2 points there still leaves you down 9, meaning 2 scores are required to win or tie.  Making it a 10 point margin there allows you the opportunity to go for 2 and the win if that opportunity presents itself at the end.  Being down 11 can only get you a possible tie, unless somehow you score 2 TDs that late, which is very unlikely.  I just hope analytics aren’t overused by this staff, as I’ve already seen too many coaches cause their team unnecessary losses when solely relying on said numbers.

Patrick Toney apparently is going to be a Defensive Coordinator-in-training this season,  I haven’t been impressed with his schemes, and I wonder if he realizes what the definition of doing the same thing over and over again with the same personnel is.  It’s time to make some tough decisions at safety and LB, and also time to get some of the young guys on the D-line more reps.  Chris McClellan is showing some juice at DT, Jamari Lyons may need to be forced into more snaps, and I would suck it up and move Gervon Dexter to SSDE – he needs to drop 25-30 pounds and be the DE that can actually set the edge against the run.  It seems he has added too much weight to be as quick and explosive as he was 2 years ago – even though he is playing DT to try and help the team as much as he can.

Florida returns to the Swamp to take on Eastern Washington this week, but the game will be played on Sunday due to the impacts and damage caused by Hurricane Ian across the state.  The Eagles are a solid FCS team that usually makes their Playoff field, and will be playing with nothing to lose.  They have been very ordinary on offense this season, and have also attempted only one field goal in 3 games, which tells me they will likely be going for it on 4th down whenever it’s reasonable.  The Gators need to show they can put two consistent games together.  It finally appears the coaching staff is doing something about the poor play of the defense, installing 3 new starters – Kamari Wilson at Safety, Justus Boone at DE, and Jaydon Hill at CB.  There have been too many busts and some poor play from the previous starters, and it’s time to make some changes.  Of course, the new guys could make some mistakes as well, but trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and we saw enough of that the previous 4 seasons.

I’m not sure how big the crowd will be, but I imagine it could be significantly smaller and more subdued.  I know there are arguments for getting all of the games in so inexperienced players can get reps and helping the local merchants avoid a financial hit.  I would have been OK with a week off after the tough first month, allowing the players and coaches some extra time to focus on any potential family issues due to the storm, and also extra time to prepare for the upcoming Missouri and L$U games.  Now, there will be distractions for this game and less rest/preparation before the next one.

As always, in a game like this I just hope for the opportunity to play a lot of guys, along with NO INJURIES.

Prediction: Florida 45 EWU 14

South Florida Review / Tennessee Preview

The Multiverse of Madness is real!

In what felt like an alternate universe of reality, the Gators had to come from behind to escape – yes, escape – with a 31-28 “win” over a badly outmanned USF team.  It was an uneven effort from the start by the entire team, and another terrible performance from Anthony Richardson, as he threw 2 more interceptions that almost lost the game.  I said in the game preview that nothing good would come from this game other than hopefully no injuries.  I was more right than I’d even imagined.  There are just more questions now on both sides of the ball, and AR is regressing – not improving.  His checkoff inside the 5-yard line to a pass in the 4th quarter, when the Gators were blowing the Bulls off the ball and running at will, was bad judgment.  But to then double-down and throw a pass low and inside instead of high and outside with touch – to the near sideline no less – was just awful.  He was lucky that the defense got a turnover and gave the offense a short field to take the lead late.  Then the defense almost did its own Jekyll-and-Hyde imitation, allowing USF to drive inside the 20 before a bad snap ended the drive and a bad hold botched the tying FG attempt.  The entire game was brutal to watch except for when the RBs were allowed to dominate and Jalen Kimber’s pick six on a great play.

The Gator defense was horrific against the run, getting gashed for almost 300 yards on the ground and looking as bad as that statistic.  It is mind-numbing watching the DEs and rush LBs continue to play undisciplined football, not setting the edge or reading the QB on basic option runs.  Gervon Dexter is simply not a natural DT, and is playing out of position to help the team.  Ideally, he would drop 25 pounds and be a terror as a DE, but there are only inexperienced guys other than him in the DT rotation.  The inside LBs had a bad night, and it wasn’t just because the DTs weren’t doing their job – there were some poor fits and misreads that can’t happen.  Yes, Ventrell Miller was out, but the dropoff should not be that extreme for Florida at any position……just another indictment of the poor recruiting by Dancin’ Danny and the Losers.  The lone bright spot on the D-line was Des Watson – he still has a LONG way to go before he’s in good enough shape to play more snaps, but he’s improving each game, and does control the interior of the LOS when he’s in the game.

There is a serious talent issue, as the current depth chart of the defensive front seven is the weakest Florida has fielded since before Charley Pell took over in 1979……and that’s not hyperbole.  But the undisciplined play and lack of personnel/scheme adjustments by DC Patrick Toney to counter the run game is troubling.  The D-line was consistently outnumbered (again) by jumbo formations, and Toney stubbornly stuck with a 3-3-5 alignment for the entire night.  That has to change going forward for Florida to have any chance against the better teams coming up on the schedule.

Florida now travels to Rocky Top to face a 3-0 Tennessee team that can smell the blood in the water.  You know things are bad for the Gators when they go into this game having won 16 out of the last 17 in the series, and are currently 11 point underdogs……and that number continues to rise.  Based on the lack of quality depth and experience in the defensive front seven, this is an especially bad matchup against the Vols’ fast-tempo offense.  QB Hendon Hooker is nothing special, and the Gator secondary can likely cover the Tennessee receivers, but for how long?  When Hooker has to come off of his first read, that’s when he’s susceptible to turnovers.  Their O-line isn’t used to having to sustain blocks for more than a few seconds and can allow a lot of sacks.  Somehow, some way, the Gator defensive front seven has to dictate the action, or else it will be a long afternoon.  I do believe the secondary matches up well with Tennessee’s WRs, and Toney’s 3-3-5 scheme may work better against their style of offense.  The Vols do have a few injuries that could impact their offense.  WR Cedric Tillman is slowed by an ankle injury, another WR is suspended for the first half of the game, and their leading RB, Jaylen Wright, is playing through some injuries.  But none of that will matter if they control the LOS.

It’s all on AR to turn himself around and into the natural playmaker he was until a few weeks ago to make the Florida offense actually threatening.  He has been playing almost emotionless football recently, and looks completely lost.  The coaches can only do so much in developing a game plan that accommodates his strengths, but I will say Billy Napier and Co. need to tell AR to let himself loose and go back to some of the sandlot style that he excels in.  I know they have been protecting him from possible injury, but the passing offense just isn’t working consistently, and there’s no way you can be a solely running team in today’s SEC and win with regularity.  The only thing I liked in the USF game was that finally there were some jump balls thrown to a big receiver – in this case Justin Shorter.  He made a great catch on one, and didn’t have a chance on the other because it was such a poorly-executed throw by AR.  If you’re going with a QB with a lower completion percentage, then perhaps it’s time for more low-percentage throws that can either be big plays or simply incompletions……not interceptions.

It’s obvious that Florida will have to run the ball well – and often – to have any real chance at an upset win.  Of course Tennessee will do what every team has done to date – force AR to prove he can beat them throwing the football, and stack the box to slow the running game.  What’s disturbing is that even when he makes the correct reads, he’s overthrowing his receivers by a LOT.  If it’s nerves and he can’t shake them, then it’s time to try someone else, no matter the limited options right now.  Even a series or two on the sideline might help him see things better……or not.  But this is what the passing game has devolved into at this point.  Even with the limited and simplistic game plans, there are receivers getting open.  Word is that Jalen Kitna may finally have enough trust of the staff to be called upon if AR struggles again……maybe that provides some extra motivation?

Napier goes into his first SEC road game with a lot of noise building in the system.  No one is calling for head and he’s not going anywhere, but many who were concerned about his position coaching and play calling history are saying “I told you so” right now.  If the offense continues to struggle all season, it’s going to be of great interest as to whether he relinquishes those duties and becomes CEO Billy Napier.  There’s nothing wrong with that in today’s football landscape.  I predicted a loss in this game in my season preview, and unfortunately, I’ll have to stick by that for now.  As long as I see a competent offense and an improved run defense, that will bode well for the rest of the season.

Prediction: Tennessee 34 Florida 21

Kentucky Review / South Florida Preview

The Chicken or the Egg?

Or just a crappy omelet?

Talk about a stunning reversal of fortune.  After a thrilling, well-played win in the opener over Utah, the Gator offense – especially QB Anthony Richardson – looked terrible all evening in a dispiriting 26-16 upset loss to Kentucky.  It was even more painful to watch than last years’ meltdown in Lexington, watching AR completely implode.  His throws were off-target, his decision-making was suspect, and he gave the game away with essentially 2 pick-sixes, to give the Wildcats life and set Florida up for another bad loss.  His comments after the game were telling – and troubling.  He said he completely lost confidence in himself early on, and he allowed that to affect the rest of his game.  That is not what you want to hear from any player, even an inexperienced one.  Unfortunately, the play calling of Billy Napier/Rob Sale was……well……I’ll just say the words “unimaginative” and “limited” came to mind.  Why they continued to call so many pass plays when the running game is the strength of the offense was puzzling – especially after the Gators took a 16-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter after a safety.  Just going into halftime with that lead would have been fine, as the defense was playing well.  But then AR was picked on a terrible throw to allow Kentucky to close to within 16-13 at the half.  You could just feel the deflation of the crowd and AR himself, and it only got worse from there.  The running game suffered as a result of AR’s ineffectiveness, as Kentucky could load the box in the 2nd half.  Even so, Napier/Sale gave up on the run too early and often – there were still some plays to be made by Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson that were simply taken away from them.  RT Michael Tarquin’s leg injury immediately had an impact, showing the small amount of quality/experienced depth along the O-line  Austin Barber may be better in 2023, but he had his struggles filling in for Tarquin.

Regarding the opening questions……was it simply AR being mentally weak, was it a poor game plan with lousy play calling, or a combination of both?  Sadly, I have to lay the majority of the blame on AR’s shoulders.  He missed a lot of open receivers – especially in the 1st half when the Gators could have put the game away.  For some reason (and he stated this publicly), he almost forced himself to be more of a pocket passer instead of using his athletic ability to make plays he normally would.  That is a troubling decision, and hopefully his teammates don’t take it personally and just move forward.  To his credit, he took the blame after the game and faced reporter’s questions.  Now we have to wait and see how he responds.

Florida’s defense really stepped up to try and cover for the offensive struggles, and did enough to win almost any other game.  They pressured Will Levis most of the night, Gervon Dexter finally looked disruptive at the LOS, and some blitzes helped generate sacks and incompletions.  There still are problems with coverage of the TE that have to be corrected.  I give these guys a lot of credit for continuing to play hard, knowing their QB was completely out of the game mentally, and even covering for Napier’s ill-advised decision to go for it from his own 40 on 4th down with still 6 minutes left in the game.  They forced a 3-and-out and then got the missed FG, but the offense stalled again, and this time they could do no more than allow the game-clinching FG.  The overall tackling was improved, but the safety play is still suspect.  I like what Corey Raymond is doing with the cornerbacks – it’s a massive improvement over what we have had to suffer through the previous 4 years.  I need to see DC Patrick Toney help the players out in some coverage schemes, especially on 3rd down with opponent TEs.  Here’s hoping that Ventrell Miller’s leg injury isn’t too serious, and that he can return for the Tennessee game.

Special teams are only half special right now.  Punter Jeremy Crawshaw had a great night, and Adam Mihalek made both of his FG attempts, including a 50-yarder.  However……there is still no juice in the return game, and another dumb holding call killed the momentum after the safety, which took away good field position and immediately preceded the start or AR’s meltdown.

What could have been an even better start to 2022 has now given way to questions and concerns, which easily could have been avoided.  Coach Napier and his staff have some real work to do the next 2 weeks……more mental than physical.  The offensive game-planning has to improve, and somehow they need to re-build AR’s confidence……in a hurry.  Welcome to the SEC, Billy Napier.

This week South Florida comes to the Swamp for a big paycheck and a bigger beatdown.  The Bulls are terrible again this year, as they continue a massive, years-long program rebuild.  This game should essentially be a glorified scrimmage for the Gators.  The thing about USF being so bad is that this game really will do nothing to solve the issues of the offense.  My biggest hope for this game is……no injuries.  Florida is travelling to an undefeated Tennessee after this game, and needs everyone healthy and focused for that one.  Perhaps AR decides to take some pressure off of himself and the offense in general and throw to his RBs more with quick passes in the flats.  He has had multiple opportunities in both games to do so, and for some reason won’t pull the trigger.  The defense shouldn’t be threatened in any real way – just tackle well and get a lot of guys some snaps.

Prediction: Florida 45 South Florida 10

Utah Review / Kentucky Preview

Florida started off Billy Napier’s tenure with a rousing 29-26 win over Utah in front of a season-opener record crowd at the Swamp.  This game went as I suspected, with two evenly-matched teams battling until the end in a close game.  Utah played well in a hostile environment, but all of their talk about being PAC-12 champions rang hollow, as they looked simply like a solid SEC team.  Similar to when Auburn is good, for instance – good running game, mobile QB, well-coached, but nothing the Gators don’t see 5-6 times every season.  Their fans will never really understand that SEC teams see this kind of atmosphere 6 or more times EVERY season, and sometimes 3-4 weeks in a row.  The SEC isn’t a one-off conference……welcome to the grind.  Another fantastic showing from Gator Nation in the Swamp – it was an electric night.

Anthony Richardson was the best player on the field, and did a good job in his first start as QB1 given the quality of the opponent.  He stayed within himself for the most part, not trying for hero plays and executing the offense.  His passing came around after he calmed down as the game progressed, but it was his legs that were the difference-maker.  Utah had no answer for him as a runner, even when they had him defended – he’s just that elite of a playmaker.  The O-line played perhaps it’s best game in a decade, allowing the Florida RBs to get to the second level while controlling the LOS.  O’Cyrus Torrence played up to his pre-season hype, while the rest of the linemen looked better coached than in years.  Nay’Quan Wright, Montrell Johnson, and Trevor Etienne all had their moments.  Johnson looks like a load between the tackles, while Etienne received more snaps than I think anyone expected, and showed why.  He has some serious juice, exhibiting both elusiveness and power.  The WR corps definitely has a WR1 in Ricky Pearsall, and it’s obvious why AR says he’s already built a comfort level throwing to him.  He was effective in the middle of the field all night, and made some clutch 3rd down receptions to extend scoring drives.  Xavier Handerson and Justin Shorter were effective ball-control targets.  Florida still seems to lack a deep passing game for now, and I’m not sure if that’s going to change this season.  If not, opponents will start to shrink the field even more to slow the running game.  It was disappointing to not see Trent Wittemore involved more, with zero catches.

Surprisingly, the defense struggled much of the night, especially against Utah’s running game.  Frankly, I was disappointed in DC Patrick Toney’s schemes, especially the entire second half.  Utah came out with an overloaded O-line and he never adjusted his personnel to it.  The Gator D-line was manhandled, getting gashed time and again, and also not spying QB Cam Rising, who hurt Florida with some huge 3rd down runs.  The secondary played very well, limiting Utah’s WRs all game,  However, Toney never seemed to account for their TEs, who are the strength of their passing attack.  Yes, Amari Burney had the play of the game with his end zone interception to save the win, but where were the nickelbacks and CBs to cover the TEs?  This was a stark reminder of what coaching continuity and experience can do – the Utes made key adjustments in the 2nd half, and the Gators did not counter them well……or at all.  LOTS of improvement needed there.  The open-field tackling was improved from last season, but still has a long way to go.  Safety Rashad Torrence missed too many tackles, and the cornerbacks can do better in run support.

Special Teams were solid but unspectacular.  Still no return game of note, and I’m surprised the staff didn’t put Etiennne, Lorenzo Lingard, or a cornerback in to return punts.  Adam Mihalek, a preferred walk-on, got the start as the placekicker, which was surprising.  His kickoffs weren’t that deep, and he wasn’t allowed any FG attempts, as Napier rolled the dice on two 4th down calls in the red zone that led to touchdowns.  I’m concerned about this until Mihalek or Trey Smack show something in live action.  Jeremy Crawshaw did a nice job of placing his punts inside the 20 with no chance for returns.

I really liked Napier’s comments in the post-game locker room and presser.  They were measured and to the point, and you can tell how much the players respond to him.  What a change from Dancin’ Danny – no arrogance or stupid, off-the-cuff statements that embarrass the players and University.

Florida’s SEC East Revenge Tour begins this week with Kentucky coming to the Swamp.  After the embarrassment of last year’s debacle in Lexington, this team has all the motivation it needs to not have a letdown after such a big game.  The Wildcats are getting some run from the media as the 2nd-best team in the East for some reason, but I’m not buying it.  They are playing through some school-imposed suspensions of a few key players, including RB Chris Rodriquez.  They didn’t look impressive in beating Miami (OH) last week, and we’ll see if they know anything about expectations in football.  QB Will Levis for some reason is getting hyped by some NFL Draft gurus as a potential 1st-round pick, which is laughable.  He has a decent arm and some mobility, but a crappy Todd Grantham defense held him to 87 yards passing last season, and their running game is not as good this year.  Despite it’s struggles in the second half against Utah’s running game, I expect some improvement from the Gator front seven this week.  I’m hoping to see some scheme adjustments from DC Patrick Toney, and perhaps some additional rotation at DT to keep bodies fresh.  Florida’s offense isn’t so explosive that the defense can allow Kentucky to control the clock for extended periods, or else this game could become another dicey 4th-quarter affair.

I expect a lot of the same things we saw from the offense against Utah in this game.  Florida will try to establish it’s running game to allow AR some comfort in a controlled passing game, with the occasional QB run for shock and awe.  I’m still waiting for evidence of a deep zone threat to open up the field.  Anything will be an improvement over last year’s meltdown – just limit the penalties and turnovers, and eventually wear down the Wildcat defenders.  3rd down efficiency will be a key all season until there is evidence of big-play ability in the passing game.

I actually believe that Kentucky is similar to Utah in many ways – relying on a strong running game and run defense, along with coaching and scheme continuity.  Those similarities should help the Gators in their preparation.  They will already have that kind of game feel from last week, and should not be surprised by anything the Wildcats throw at them.  The Swamp will be jacked up for the SEC opener, even more so coming off of a thrilling win.  Florida owes Kentucky some serious payback, and I think we get to see it Saturday night.

Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 20

Utah Preview

The season is finally here, and it certainly will be an interesting one.  The past 9 months has been a whirlwind for new head coach Billy Napier – filling out his coaching staff, hiring a very large (and quality) support staff to finally match the other winning programs of the past decade, cobbling together a 2022 recruiting class (and doing much better than expected), working on the 2023 recruiting class (off to a very good start), and trying to figure out what kind of talent he has to work with for the upcoming season.

Napier and the Gators do not get the luxury of easing into a new season with an overmatched opponent.  Utah comes to the Swamp off of winning the PAC-12 and getting to the Rose Bowl last season, and have a lot of preseason hype surrounding them.  They have some distinct advantages coming into this game – an established starting QB, a quality RB, experience on their defense, and the comfort of a stable coaching staff and scheme.  Kyle Whittingham is entering his 18th season as head coach – remember he replaced Urban Meyer when Meyer took the Florida job……seems like a lifetime ago.

Florida will likely need to rely on it’s defense to carry the load early in the season as the offense finds it’s footing.  They have a tough assignment right away, starting with controlling mobile QB Cam Rising and 1,000-yard RB Tavion Thomas.  The Gator front seven knows it must handle these two, and do have the advantage of the noise of the home crowd along with Utah breaking in 2 new tackles and a center.  Those are critical positions, and the Gator DEs, along with DT Gervon Dexter, must get penetration and create havoc early and often.  Rising can keep plays alive with his legs and is a solid running threat, but can find trouble when forced to throw from the pocket.

Utah historically has used it’s TEs very effectively in the passing game, and I expect them to attack Florida’s LBs early and often.  Gator LBs have struggled mightily in pass coverage for years now, and have to prove they are better in the new scheme devised by DC Patrick Toney.  Utah does not have game-breaking WRs, and Florida’s secondary should play well under new coach Corey Raymond.  No more soft coverage and bad tackling will be tolerated.  The front seven will have it’s hands full, so the secondary must perform at it’s best.

It’s Anthony Richardson time for the Gator offense.  He will have to carry a lot on his shoulders, despite little experience and coming off of a handful of nagging injuries in 2021.  With no backup QB having any real experience until Jack Miller returns from injury (broken thumb), he’ll have to manage his running in order to stay healthy.  The most important ability for him to exhibit this year will be availability.

Napier will be calling the plays with help from OL coach Rob Sale.  They will have to lean on a solid RB corps and (hopefully) a better-coached and developed O-line.  Once again, Florida’s O-line starts another season having to prove itself SEC-worthy.  It’s been over a decade of essentially the same story, and it’s no surprise that it correlates with the past 3 coaching firings.  Napier definitely upgraded the coaching with Sale and Darnell Stapleton, but how fast will their teaching translate into performance?  If this group struggles, the offense – and season – could look very rough.

The Gators RB room is as good as anyone in terms of depth.  Nay’Quan Wright, Lorenzo Lingard, and Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson all are capable runners, and Wright is solid in the passing game.  Freshman Trevor Etienne may not see many carries early in the season, but could contribute in the kick return game as he settles in. 

I expect Utah to stack the box early in the game and force Florida to prove it can move the ball consistently by passing when necessary.  The Gator WRs have much to prove, trying to overcome a combination of little returning experience and incorporating senior transfer Ricky Pearsall.  Justin Shorter needs to show he can lead this group with his on-field performance – he has the size to be a weapon in the red zone.  Xavier Handerson, Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Ja’Markus Weston, and speedster Marcus Burke have shown little to date and must improve.  AR has already developed a good rapport with Pearsall, who along with Trent Wittemore in the slot are his most reliable targets.  Those two could really help open up the rest of the field for the outside receivers by making plays and moving the chains in the middle zones.  Utah has had to replace it’s entire LB corps (including Florida transfer Mahmoud Diabate) and could be susceptible in pass defense.

It’s Napier’s first game, it’s a night game at the Swamp, and Utah comes in highly ranked and talking a big game.  It may sound counterintuitive, but the fact that the Utes will have little film to work off of may work into Florida’s favor, despite the new scheme and some new starters at key positions.  There is much to be said for coaching and scheme continuity traveling well, but many of the Gator players have big-game experience of their own, and have a lot of motivation to prove themselves after 2021’s late-season implosion.  I expect a tough, physical game that won’t be decided until the 4th quarter.  The noise and humidity will play large factors, as will the Gators developing a real trust factor with their new coaches.  Florida embarrassed itself in the second half of last season, and there’s no better time than right now to start washing away the bad taste and stain of that performance.

Predicction: Florida 24 Utah 21

2022 Season Preview

Here we are – again.  Another reset for the 4th time in 12 seasons.  Billy Napier takes the reins to try and finally establish consistency, continuity, and stability in the Florida football program.  To his credit, he has pushed almost all the right buttons so far.  He has hired a professional and very hard-working coaching staff; he has instituted a large support staff to help with every phase of the program – especially recruiting; and he has shown to be a steady public speaker – sending out the correct messages about the program without making an ass of himself publicly like Dancin’ Danny and the Losers.

He inherits likely the least talented and experienced roster of any new Gator head coach since Charley Pell signed on in 1979.  The staff has to implement an entirely new scheme, determine the depth chart, and coach up many unproven players behind the starters.  The previous staff did a terrible job of getting backups experience, and in many cases not even playing more talented guys by favoring seniority.  It’s a massive undertaking – trying to rebuild the program while putting together a viable product on the field.

Everyone is anxious to wash away the bad taste of a miserable 2021 season.  The schedule isn’t going to help, with a difficult start the first 2 games and the usual SEC grind.  Add in all of the unknowns with the roster and little proven depth, and this could be a rough first season on the field for Napier.  We shall see how the season unfolds……”that’s why they play the games”.


It will be a common theme in the position group analysis across the board – many questions, a few answers, and a lot of guesswork as to what we can expect from the new staff and the new schemes.

At quarterback, it’s the Anthony Richardson show now.  He is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and will need to prove to everyone he can perform efficiently in a new offense, while showing he can stay healthy and be durable through a SEC season.  The physical skills are not in doubt – he has to exhibit accuracy when throwing, make the correct reads quickly, and use his legs intelligently to extend plays and occasionally gash the defense with a big play.  Jack MIller has emerged as the top backup as of now.  He’s a transfer from Ohio St. with minimal playing experience, but no stranger to big-time college atmosphere.  While he seems to have grasped the new offense, his performance in the Orange and Blue Game was erratic.  Unfortunately, he broke the thumb on his throwing hand in fall practice and will miss at least the first 2 games.  This is a major issue as behind them are Jalen Kitna and freshman Max Brown.  Neither should be counted on much this year unless something serious happens regarding injuries, but one has happened.  Kitna may be forced into early duty, and even he is fighting off some nagging injuries and is being force-fed reps to try and have him ready.  I think this is really going to limit the amount of leash AR has regarding running the ball on broken plays.  Napier and Co-OL Coach Rob Sale will be calling the plays, and I suspect them to be as conservative as possible to try and grind out wins early in the season.

The running back room again looks to be the best and deepest unit on the offensive side of the ball.  Lorenzo Lingard finally seems to be healthy and gets his chance to play meaningful snaps – he emerged as the #1 RB after spring practice.  Montrell Johnson transferred in from Louisiana, following Napier to Gainesville.  He ran for over 800 yards as a true freshman last season and knows the offense, and will see plenty of action this fall.  Nayquan Wright seems to be fully recovered from his broken ankle suffered in the win over F$U, and has the most seniority.  He is a tough and savvy runner despite his size, and is the best receiver of the group.  True freshman Trevor Etienne was recruited by RB coach Jabbar Juluke while at Louisiana, and likely will have to wait his turn, even as he has impressed in fall practice.

The WR corps has it’s own questions to answer.  There is some returning experience and production, but also has not shown consistency or big-play capability.  Fortunately, Napier pulled off a coup by snatching coach Keary Colbert from USC.  Colbert has developed a lot of elite players the past few years at Southern California and put those players into the NFL – he is a massive upgrade.  On the outside, Justin Shorter is the leader of the group.  He has NFL size and physicality, but needs to improve getting separation from defenders.  His size should make him a great red zone weapon.  Ja’Quavion Fraziers, Xavier Henderson, Ja’Markis Weston, and Marcus Burke all have good size as well, but none showed they could consistently get separation running their routes – a common theme.  All have experience but little production to show for it, and at least a few of them have to contribute more.  Burke is the fastest of the group, and perhaps can stretch the field for the others.  In the slot, Florida may have some major weapons that can open up the rest of the field.  Trent Wittemore returns from injury, and has already shown he can get open and make plays.  Ricky Pearsall transferred in from Arizona St., and has showed well in fall practice.  He comes in with good production last season at Arizona St. and is a senior.

The TE group lost a good player when Kemore Gamble inexplicably transferred to UCF, creating a hole that we will have to wait and see how it’s filled.  Dante Zanders moved from DE in the spring, and surprised many by taking over as the #1 option. Keon Zipperer is more of an H-back than true in-line player, and I’m not sure how well he fits in the new offense.  Nick Elksnis started off well in spring practice, but has battled injuries.  He has the size and pass-catching ability that could make him the starter, but seemingly hasn’t convinced the coaches yet.  There are some freshmen with promise in Arlis Boardingham and Hayden Hanson, but they likely redshirt this year.  Coach William Peagler has to show he can develop what he has at his disposal, but has already shown chops on the recruiting trail.

Finally, it comes down to the offensive line – again.  After enduring mediocre coaching and bad recruiting from John Hevesy, he is replaced by two vastly better coaches – Sale and Darnell Stapleton.  Sale comes from the NFL, and has been named Offensive Coordinator, with Napier calling the plays.  Along with Stapleton, these two have already impressed the players with their knowledge and coaching, while making inroads in recruiting.  It’s been way too long for Florida to field a dominant OL, going back to the Meyer years.  There is enough returning experience and ability for this year’s group to be SEC-caliber, but they have to stay healthy and show more consistency.   Kingsley Eguakun returns at center – he played well last season until injuries slowed him.  The guard position is probably the deepest, with a rotation of Josh Braun, Ethan White and Louisiana transfer O’Cyrus Torrence forming a solid unit.  Torrence comes in with a lot of preseason hype and is highly-regarded by NFL scouts.  The tackle position remains the biggest question mark – again.  Richard Gouriage should start at LT, but is coming off of an injury sustained in fall camp.  He had some good moments last season, but needs to show improvement and more consistency.  Michael Tarquin seems to have pulled ahead at RT, but has little experience.  Behind those two there are a lot of young players with precious little experience, and an injury to either starter could prove problematic.  The coaches have a LOT of work to do to develop some serviceable players.  If the O-line somehow stands strong all season, that will allow Richardson to maximize his effectiveness and hopefully keep him healthy.  If they struggle, Napier’s plan for a solid running game to protect his QB while giving the defense a break will fall apart, and it could be a rough season.


Finally, the losing scheme and mentality of Todd Grantham is gone from Gainesville.  After watching historically bad defense from this group the past 2 years, it’s time for the Gator defense to start reasserting itself as one of the best in the SEC and country.  New Defensive Coordinator Patrick Toney is a young, promising coach who brings legitimate schemes that will allow the defenders to play fast again and more physically – especially in the secondary.   Gone are the days of “3rd-and Grantham” and soft coverage.  Toney also has some elite position coaches to help implement what eventually could become a real SEC defense as the season progresses.

The defensive line has a lot of questions coming in regarding playmaking ability and quality depth.  There are no questions, though, as to the leader of the group – Gervon Dexter.  He has shown flashes of elite play and speed his first two seasons, and is on the radar of many NFL teams.  He is now called upon to take charge of a largely unknown and unproven group.  The only returning players with any meaningful experience at DT are Jalen Lee and Des Watson.  Lee has potential, but has to make a huge jump this season to provide SEC-level play and contribute to a frighteningly young rotation.  Watson is still carrying too much weight at 415 lbs.  No matter how well he may seem to carry that much weight, he will still not be in good enough shape to play a decent number of consecutive snaps, and is holding himself back from realizing his potential.  Jaelin Humphries has been injured most of his first 2 years, and Chris Thomas just recently was reinstated to the team after being in Napier’s doghouse since the spring.  After them, some talented true freshmen are going to be forced into action and have to provide enough quality snaps in order to rest the starters and help survive the conference schedule.  Chris McClellan enrolled early and made some noise in the spring, and Jamari Lyons will be pressed into duty probably too early, but will hopefully not be overwhelmed.  The rotation at DE is a little better off, led by Princely Umanmelien and Justus Boone.  Princely has impressed the new staff, and Boone showed some flashes in limited snaps as a freshman.  After them, it’s the same story as at DT – precious little experience and proven depth.  Tyreak Sapp has the athletic ability to play in the SEC, but hardly played his freshman season.  It looks like Sean Spencer, aka Coach Chaos, will have to coach perhaps his best season yet to survive with this group.  I believe there will be many snaps with only 3 DL, with perhaps a few rush LBs and 5 or 6 DBs on the field based on the opponent.  This seems to be Toney’s preferred personnel philosophy, and makes the most sense with such a thin D-line.

The LB corps comes in with more depth and raw talent than has been seen since maybe 2016, but also with little experience behind the expected starters.  OLB Brenton Cox should be primed for a breakout season – he is a proven pass-rusher, but it’s time to improve against the run and to show more consistency and discipline within the scheme.  Lloyd Summerall, Chief Borders, and Antwaun Powell are inexperienced, but showed promise in the spring and will be counted upon to make the leap to solid contributors.  Summerall has shown flashes as a pass-rusher, but still has to gain weight and strength to avoid being overpowered too often.  At ILB, Ventrell Miller fortunately chose to return for his 6th year after a torn pectoral muscle ended his 2021 season very early.  His experience and leadership will benefit the entire defense, especially a young group at his position.  Derek Wingo and Scooby Williams showed some promise when they were finally allowed on the field once the previous staff was fired, and will be heavily counted upon.  It’s a shame they were blocked not by opposing teams but by their own coaches……more professional malfeasance.  Diwan Black has experience on special teams, but must show something at the LB position.  True freshman Shemar James was one of Napier’s star recruits, and will play early and often.  The arrival of Jay Bateman and former Gator great Mike Peterson to coach the LBs will pay dividends the longer they get to develop these players.

The secondary has been hamstrung by Grantham for far too long.  Gone are the days of “3rd-and Grantham” – soft coverage, poor schemes, and bad tackling and pursuit angles.  Napier hit a home run in stealing Corey Raymond away from LSU.  Raymond has sent multiple players to the League, and is both a tremendous recruiter and developer of talent.  We should see an exponential leap in the playmaking and performance of the cornerbacks and safeties.

The CB rotation is talented, but lacks depth in numbers.  Jason Marshall played well as an elite true freshman recruit last season, and comes into 2022 as the leader of this group.  Starting opposite him will be Jalen Kimber, a talented transfer from Georgia who was buried on their depth chart after getting injured early in 2021.  He looked very good in the spring game and has been a standout in practice.  There are some very good players behind those two, with Avery Helm, Jordan Young, and true freshman Devin Moore all being prepped for significant duty this fall.  Helm is perhaps the most athletically gifted of the entire group, and just needs to develop his football skills to match.  Young redshirted last season but has shown promise in fall camp.  Moore has been especially impressive given his youth, and has pushed his way into the rotation.  Finally, Jaydon Hill is still rehabbing from his second knee surgery in less than 3 years.  He has played well in limited duty, but has to show he can stay healthy.  All of these guys will also get some reps at the NIckel position until a few move ahead.

The safety position is a real mystery.  There are a handful of players with experience that have simply not played to their potential, and there are some young guys that were buried on the depth chart by the previous staff that can play, but unfortunately have scant experience.  Trey Dean came back for his 5th year to hopefully fulfill the promise he came to Gainesville with.  He is leader of the group, and has by far the most experience.  Rashad Torrence had an inconsistent freshman season, but is being hyped as a potential early-round NFL pick if he continues to develop.  Both he and Dean need to exhibit better pursuit angles and tackling in space, as well as better ball awareness.  Something tells me with professional coaching they will improve dramatically.  Dakota Mitchell and Tre’Vez Johnson return as the backups with the most experience, but both have plenty to improve upon.  Jadarrius Perkins transferred in from Missouri in 2021 and saw a good bit of action on special teams and also in the Nickel rotation, along with Johnson.  Finally, the crown jewel of Napier’s first recruiting class, Kamari Wilson, comes in as the highest-rated recruit for Florida in many years.  He enrolled early, and has already impressed everyone with both his physical development along with his maturity – he will see the field this fall.

Special Teams

After the ineptitude of 2021 and the complete lack of playmaking in the return game under Greg Knox, anything in 2022 should be an improvement.  Coach Napier uses the term ‘gamechangers’ when describing this unit, which would be a welcome and much-needed sight.

You think the Gators couldn’t have used Evan McPherson in 2021?  After Dancin’ Danny ran him off by throwing him under the bus after the LSU game in 2020, Florida had to endure weak and inconsistent placekicking from Jace Cristmann and Chris Howard in 2021, with bad results.  This year, freshman Trey Smack likely gets first crack as the #1 FG kicker.  He certainly has a stronger leg than either of last year’s kickers and comes in as an elite prospect, but has to prove he can perform under the pressure of SEC games.  Preferred walk-on Adam Mihalek may also get some early-season work if the right situation presents itself.

Jeremy Crawshaw returns as the punter.  He had some success last season, but needs to improve his consistency, hang time, and lessen the number of low kicks.  Hopefully he continues the recent run of Australian rugby player success in American college football, and he has the leg strength to do it.

The most impactful change may come in the return game.  Big plays have been sorely lacking for far too long, and with the many question marks concerning the offense, this group could directly affect the outcome of a few games this fall.  Kickoff returns were mostly handled by Weston and Fraziers last year, while Henderson returned punts (or mostly called a fair catch).  The coaching staff needs to get away from the risk-averse thinking of the previous staff and let some athletes cut loose and make some “gamechanging” plays.  

Too many questions to feel comfortable right now, but also some real hope that quality coaching makes a huge improvement.

Schedule and Outlook

The 2022 schedule is difficult, with a strong start and the usual SEC grind.  There is no time for easing into the season – the staff and players will have to be ready immediately for a tough September with scant room for error or poor play.

Utah – Win

I have gone back and forth on this game for a while.  Utah returns most of it’s starters from last season’s Rose Bowl team, and has the luxury of continuity in coaching and scheme.  However, the LAC-12 was just not very strong in 2021, so it’s difficult to say how good the Utes really are.  It may seem counterintuitive, but the fact that Florida will come in with so many new faces along with new schemes could play into their favor, as Utah will not have much film to prepare for what they might see.  The humidity and a loud night game in the Swamp could carry the day.

Kentucky – Win

So much is being made of the Wildcats after finishing 2nd in a crap East Division last season.  For some reason QB Will Levis is being made out to be a high-level NFL prospect, which he hasn’t shown against the Gators, as they made him look terrible in last year’s debacle.  Florida will have a massive amount of motivation to take it to the Wildcats and get payback for that embarrassment.  It will likely come down to the 4th quarter, but I think the Gators find a way to win.

South Florida – Win

South Florida was horrific in 2021.  Their roster is slowly improving, but still is miles away from competing with a team like Florida.  The only thing that may keep this game close for the first half is that the Gators will be coming off of 2 intense, physical games.

@Tennessee – Loss

I have a weird feeling about this game.  I have no doubt that the Gators can win, but it will be the first road game after a tough start to the season, and coach Josh Heupel will be running his fast-paced offense that can cause problems for a defense.  I’m just not sure if Richardson and all of the young players are ready for the environment, and could suffer a letdown.

Eastern Washington – Win

A welcome light opponent in what should be no more than a controlled scrimmage after a tough previous 4 weeks.

Missouri (Homecoming) – Win

Eli Drinkowitz and the Tigers had their fun last year, beating the Gators in overtime and putting the nail in Mullen’s coffin.  Then he doubled down, punking Mullen by pulling out a light saber to mock Mullen’s press conference from the season before when Mullen wore his stupid Darth Vader costume to the post-game presser.  Well, it won’t be Eli that’s coming this time, but payback.  Missouri is a leech on the SEC, and never should have been accepted.

LSU – Loss

Too many times have the Gators had the better team and then laid an egg in this game.  LSU comes in with a new coaching staff of it’s own, as suddenly Cajun-speaking Brian Kelly gets to find out what the grind of the SEC is all about.  Too many weird things have happened in this game over the past 30 years to expect anything other than the unexpected.

Bye Week

Georgia (Jacksonville) – Loss

The Puppies finally ended a 41-year championship drought last year.  Gone is most of that generational defense, but that’s why recruiting is so important, as they will backfill all of that lost talent with more, albeit less experienced.  Even in this rivalry game where upsets happen, their coaching and scheme continuity are probably too much for Napier’s first-year team to overcome.

@Texas A&M – Loss

Now that Dumbo Fishy and the Aggies have bought one of the best recruiting classes in history, the pressure is on to finally produce.  The appropriately-named aTm has it’s own QB issues to resolve, but will be at home.  Fishy has a deep hatred for Florida, and usually gets whatever team he’s coaching up for this game.  This is a doubly-tough game for the Gators coming off of their rivalry game in Jacksonville.

South Carolina – Win

Florida embarrassed itself and all of Gator Nation in last year’s game at Columbia, quitting early and getting blown out.  Coach Shane Beamer and the Lamecocks are getting way too much run for that result, and the Gators continue their SEC East redemption tour by winning this one.

@Vanderbilt – Win

Vandy was terrible last season, and I don’t see much improvement in this year’s team.  Florida likely does it’s usual sleepwalk for this game, but wins even if it’s ugly.

@Florida $t. – Win

The Criminoles are talking proud for some reason after coming off of 4 straight bad seasons.  They may actually qualify for a bowl game this season, but still look much more like the pre-Bobby Bowden teams of the 1970s.  This game was moved to Friday night after Thanksgiving allegedly for better TV viewership, so if really true that means more people will see the Gators win their 4th straight in the series.

Overall Record          8-4

SEC Record              4-4

2022 could prove to be a fascinating season.  There are so many questions concerning the players and coaches, of course, but also the schedule plays out in ways that will not allow the staff to hide any weaknesses nor have the luxury of some early easy opponents to get valuable reps and experience before things get real.

The starting 22 can compete with almost anyone, but after that is where the story of 2022 will be decided.  There will be injuries as always, and can a group of inexperienced and unproven kids provide the level of talent and depth needed both to compete against elite teams and also maintain a high level of play through the grind of a SEC schedule?  The previous staff did this team no favors at all by holding back so many young players, and the new staff has a LOT of work to do to cobble together both schemes and rotations that maximize what they have to work with.  If the offense can’t provide an effective running game and score efficiently, the defense will wear down as the season progresses.  

Lots of new faces in key roles – again – and a lot to prove to themselves and the country – again.  The talent is mostly there, but it is unproven.  You can’t hide in the SEC, and the good (or bad) will be exposed soon enough.  The season could go a lot of ways, and we’re about to see where.  With all of the uncertainty, I believe winning 8 games would be a successful season.  Anything above that would be icing on the cake.  But, if injuries hit key players, it could be a tough road to get to 6 wins.  Patience, which is in small supply in college football – especially in the SEC – will be needed as Coach Napier starts the road back for Florida to compete for championships.

It’s that time again……Heeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!

NIL  – The Good, The Bad, and The (Mostly) Ugly

NIL – Name, Image, and Likeness.  Three letters and three words that are currently roiling the foundations of college football and spurring the latest remaking of the conference landscape.  Just the mention of those letters or words starts off heated debates, along with hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing, and any other fill-in-the-blank physical manifestation you wish.

What should have been a straightforward but at the same time revolutionary step forward for college athletes was quickly bastardized by a certain percentage of greedy, egomaniacal boosters, agents, parents, handlers, and players into the current chaotic mess.  It’s the Wild West for “procuring” the best talent – “procuring” in the sense of $$$$$$ as opposed to obtaining by legitimate means following the rules.  NIL is a “pay-for-play” exercise now for too many people involved in the recruiting process.

The NCAA essentially created this mess, stubbornly exploiting kids for decades while making obscene profits, and the member schools are also to blame for backing up the NCAA and collecting massive television rights money.  Once the NCAA finally capitulated, knowing they would be crushed in the courts (as usual), they further screwed things up by kicking the can down the road – allowing individual states to write and enact their own laws, with zero continuity.  This created an uneven playing field between conferences and schools – with Florida immediately feeling the pain.

Florida football has been essentially ground zero for all of the travails that have followed NIL – especially since recruiting has been the full focus since spring practice ended.  The Gators have already lost some elite players to other rivals – the most notable being QB Jaden Rashada to the Miami Ruizes, er, Hurricanes, CB AJ Harris to Georgia, and CB Tony Mitchell to Alabama.  Miami “businessman” and lawyer John Ruiz has been blatantly flaunting the state of Florida’s NIL Law, publicly admitting he’s buying recruits away from the Gators to the Canes – Rashada being the biggest name.  Harris was a long-time strong lean to Florida, then suddenly takes a trip to Georgia, and – just like that – commits to the Dawgs and talks of being ‘home’ and “stacking money”.  Mitchell was also a strong lean to Florida, then takes a trip to Alabama and commits.  Mitchell Sr. completely pulled back the curtain in a tweet that says Florida is “not making a big enough effort on the ‘business end’ of NIL” – a transparent money grab, exploiting his son’s athletic talent.

Billy Napier is maintaining the company line that Florida will follow the rules and not tie in any “signing bonuses” that other schools are using to entice high school players or some in the transfer portal.  He stresses that the Florida program will concentrate on the players already on the roster, and eventually those that sign with the Gators.  That position has stirred up it’s own firestorm of arguments and infighting between Gator fans that are on the side of the law vs. those that are worried that the talent gap will continue to widen and drag Florida down into consistent mediocrity, and want the Gators to do what the usual suspects are doing.  Adding insult to injury, Darren Heitner, a Florida graduate and lawyer, is the person that drafted most of the state of Florida’s laws that are handcuffing the new staff.

So much for simply “helping kids out” by allowing them to take advantage of their name, image, or likeness based on their perceived market by others.  NIL is just a cover for the previously-hidden bagmen to come out into the light and laugh at laws and dare the inept NCAA to do anything about their illegal actions.  There are some that say that the market will settle in a few years, or that locker rooms (like the appropriately-named aTm or Miami) will fracture once highly-paid kids either don’t play, underperform on the field, if/when payments are missed, or (even more naively) that the NCAA will crack down and create uniformity.  Meanwhile, Napier, his coaching staff, and his recruiting army are in a death struggle to put together a competitive recruiting class while certain schools “procure” elite talent and pull farther ahead.

What will be the endgame?  No one knows for sure if the state laws will be amended to give Florida more flexibility in making it’s recruiting pitch.  Even if that happens, how many recruiting classes will they have been working at a disadvantage?  No one can question the work ethic of Napier, his coaches, or the recruiting staff.  They are professional, kids and families like them, and they connect with recruits.  But it’s tough to watch them get cut off at the knees trying to sign elite players after all of their hard work is unrewarded in the immediate time frame.  Perhaps some of those same kids will eventually wind up at Florida a year or two from now for various reasons?

Finally, USC and UCLA, through television partner FOX, reached out to the Big 10/11/12/13/14/whatever and quickly moved to leave the LAC-12, stabbing their fellow schools in the back.  This has prompted wide speculation that the Big whatever will continue to expand, and that the SEC will accelerate it’s efforts to offset this latest move.  There are a handful of schools in the ACC, along with Notre Dame, that are certainly getting phone calls right now to start the ball rolling.  I certainly would like to see well-regarded schools like North Carolina and Virginia on speed dial from Greg Sankey’s SEC office.

This drama is not going away anytime soon, and it certainly gives everyone that follows college athletics much to talk about through the summer.  Before you know it, the regular season will be upon us.  That is an entirely different subject for discussion – how well can Napier and the new staff coach up a broken team?  Florida football is never a dull subject.

Until then……Go Gators!

Florida Welcomes Billy Napier

It’s that time again (unfortunately) to welcome a new head football coach to Gainesville.  Florida hopes that it finally has hit upon a long-term and successful hire with Billy Napier, after the mostly disastrous past 11 seasons under Won’t Misschump, The Swamp Donkey, and Dancin’ Danny.

Napier comes to Florida with a solid background as both an analyst, assistant coach, and head coach.  He spent a few years at both Clemson and Alabama coaching wide receivers and also as Offensive Coordinator at Clemson, watching what those programs did to build – and sustain – their current runs as elite programs.  He is also the son of a legendary high school football coach in Georgia, and has a ton of contacts in that state which should serve him well in recruiting.  His first head coaching job came at Louisiana, where he built a conference champion over 4 consistently-improving seasons.

Napier has a set way of building a program that includes both the infrastructure (assistant coaches plus staff) and the system to set them in motion and sustain them.  He is calm and methodical in explaining them, which I believe is how he was able to quickly gain the trust of the Athletic Dept. and University administration that hired him.  The success at those three schools obviously carried weight in the interview process, but it speaks to his ability to communicate his vision of success that he was hired so quickly and without a long search process. 

The staff he has put together is likely the most professional, hardest working, and best recruiting group since Urban Meyer built a mini-dynasty in Gainesville.  He has hired coaches from both the college and NFL ranks that have an established record of success, and also are already exhibiting desperately-needed hard work and energy on the recruiting trail.  He smartly negotiated a large bump in the salary pool for both his assistants and the support staff to rival the handful of recent winning programs.  Results are already being seen in recruiting – the list of players interested in Florida now comes close to the level of players that Meyer signed.  Now, we need to see if they can close on them and develop them (and the program) to where the Gators should be – among the nation’s elite.

Napier has instituted his “8-Phase” approach to the program.  These 8 Phases obviously lead up to the regular season, and it will be fascinating to watch the level of detail take hold in the process.  He is now up to Phase 3 – Spring Practice.  It will be refreshing to see open competition for every position and player, not the previous staff’s way of heavily favoring seniority over talent and productivity.  So many simple and basic points of coaching and the way you treat young men were warped by the Mullen Mafia it was professional malfeasance.  Part of the beauty of the massive army of employees he’s hired is in how no one person is overworked, and can apply 100% focus and energy on their specific responsibilities – including the players themselves.  And if they don’t?  They will be released from their duties……as it should be.

Ultimately, the final result – wins and losses – carry the most weight.  It’s hard to say what we will see this fall, as there are so many moving pieces – coaches, players, and new schemes.  It could be a bumpy ride during the season, but I believe the Athletic Dept. and the University have bought into Napier’s plan and vision, and will be patient with him to build the Florida program to his standard.  We will all be witness to his “process” and how it develops over the coming seasons.  Gator Nation is ready to celebrate returning to the conversation of being among the elite programs in the country and winning more SEC championships – it’s almost criminal that the last was all the way back in 2008.

Best of luck to Coach Napier and his “Army”.  Something tells me they won’t need too much luck with all of the hard work – and smart work – they put into the task. 

Florida $t. Review

In a game that was never as close as the final score, the Gators ended the regular season on a winning note, defeating the Criminoles 24-21.  Gator Nation could enjoy themselves again, and I am so happy for the players, as they were shafted by the former coaching staff.  They finally have something good to remember from this terrible season.

The Gator defense pretty much had their way all afternoon, less some sloppiness in the last 8 minutes.  F$U QB Jordan Travis could only hurt them with his legs, and he did when some players lost discipline and allowed him to break containment late.  But they did the proper things in shutting down RB Jashaun Corbin and containing Travis in the pocket for the most part, where he was never going to threaten them.  Florida’s D-line dominated the LOS for much of the game as expected – F$U’s O-line is worse than Florida’s, and was exposed.

It’s a shame Florida didn’t win by at least the 4 TDs they should have, but that can be traced directly to the horrific play of Emory Jones.  Despite his nice throw to Kemore Gamble for the opening TD, he had 4 additional chances in F$U’s territory in the first half to put the game away, and delivered 3 terrible interceptions and a blown option read.  It’s a shame it ended that way and led to him being benched, but at least the interim staff had the guts to put him on the sideline and let Anthony Richardson do some work.  AR didn’t have to do anything special – just be efficient and supply the occasional run to move the chains.  He made the throws he needed to, including a nice corner route to Justin Shorter in the end zone to make it 17-7 in the 3rd quarter and give the Gators some breathing room. 

Props to the Gator RBs – they all played well when they were called upon, and Dameon Pierce’s disallowed TD run in the 4th quarter after his helmet was ripped off juiced up the entire stadium.  Here’s hoping he gets his shot in the NFL, as he was criminally underutilized at Florida.  Malik Davis had some nice 3rd down runs, and a clutch catch-and-run on 3rd and 21 that led to the TD pass to Shorter.  Nay’Quan Wright had a few good plays until his nasty ankle injury, which will sideline him at least through spring practice.

The Criminoles played true to themselves – a trash team with trash players and a trash culture.  Late hits, undisciplined play, penalties, trash talk……all while being handled by a team with an interim coaching staff, being gifted 3 turnovers that were the only reason they were still in the game at halftime, and simply terrible ACC officiating.  All the talk about them being a team on the rise was bullshit – the ACC was even worse than usual this year, and they still had their 4th consecutive losing season with no bowl game.  Conquered – again.

As of this writing, Billy Napier has been hired as the next head coach for Florida.  He will bring a desperately-needed infusion of work ethic, professionalism, organization, and an understanding that recruiting is the lifeblood of any program.  Dancin’ Danny and the MSU Mafia have left him with a very poor recruiting class.  He has essentially 2 weeks to try and salvage it by trying to get some kids that decommitted to return, get some new names that are still available excited about the Gators again, try and retain some current players, and then hit the transfer portal especially hard in order to try and fill out the 85-man roster.  He also has a lot of dead weight on the current roster that simply isn’t SEC-level talent.  It’s a monster challenge, but he and the guys he hires for his staff will be working with his overall plan and vision for the program.

It will be announced after Championship Saturday where the Gators will go bowling.  It won’t be a game of any real significance, other than the opportunity for Napier and some of his new staff to evaluate what they have to work with, and allowing the younger players that were ignored by the previous staff to get more reps in practice and possibly some live playing time in the bowl game.

Recruiting is already seeing signs of life, and Gator Nation is already emerging from under the dark cloud that followed Dancin’ Danny around the past 11 months – kind of like Pig Pen in ‘Peanuts’.  There is excitement and real hope for the future.  It will take time to rebuild the roster and brand that have been gutted, but Napier has boundless energy and work ethic, which is what it will take.

Go Gators!