Florida Gators

Gators are young but Napier looks like the rookie

todaySeptember 1, 2023


Gators are young but Napier looks like the rookie


By Hays Carlyon

Presented by Woolsey Morcom


Florida was certainly relying on several freshmen and first-year players in Thursday night’s opening game at No. 14 Utah.

So, why did its head coach look like the rookie?

Billy Napier was leading his 66th career game as a head coach.

There was simply no excuse for his lousy performance in a dismal 24-11 loss. The Gators didn’t get beat athletically. Utah, missing arguably its two best players including quarterback Cam Rising, wasn’t clearly the better team with better players.

Florida gave the game away.

Napier led the charge.

The game changed on one of the silliest, stupidest penalties in Gators history. That’s a high bar. Hello, Marco Wilson.

After starting the game with a three and out and then allowing a touchdown on Utah’s first snap, the Gators had settled into the game in the second quarter.

Utah led 7-3, but was punting to Florida. Somehow, Napier and his staff failed to realize cornerback Jason Marshall hadn’t gotten the “punt safe” call, so Marshall was on the field. The problem? So was Eugene Wilson to field the punt. They both wear No. 3. That’s a penalty.

The stunning blunder gave Utah a first down, which led to a touchdown to put the Gators in a 14-3 hole.

That just can’t happen. It’s an error that is hard to live down.

Napier has an army of coaches. How did he not see it? How did they not see it?

You have to catch that and call timeout.

The Florida special teams were horrible throughout the game.

*A missed 31-yard field goal by Adam Milhalek.

*A shanked 21-yard punt by Jeremy Crawshaw that went out of bounds at the Florida 46 that turned into a Utah field goal.

*Multiple fielded punts inside the 5-yard line.

This goes to a larger issue, which is that Napier doesn’t have a special teams coordinator on his 10-man staff of on-field assistant coaches. The job belongs to support staffer Chris Couch, who ironically is titled GameChanger Coordinator. I’ll pause so you can chuckle.

Alabama icon Nick Saban has a special teams coordinator in Coleman Hutzler, who has worked in that capacity at four other schools including three in the Southeastern Conference.

Clemson legend Dabo Swinney has a special teams coordinator in Mike Reed, who headed up special teams for Andy Reid in Philadelphia from 2002-06.

Napier worked for both Saban and Swinney. I guess he thinks he’s smarter than they are.

Napier also can’t think fast enough to be a competent offensive play caller. The Gators were way too slow when down 24-3 and 24-11. They did score a touchdown on an impressive 98-yard drive, but it took 6:54 off the clock. Quarterback Graham Mertz had to keep waiting to get the call from Napier.

When UF got the ball back, another drive took way too long. The Gators had a 10-play drive go 33 yards that chewed up 4:20 before turning it over on downs.

Napier makes up for not being a twitchy thinker by also not being creative or aggressive.

I know when I’m facing a fourth-and-14 situation, I’m thinking slip screen.

This was one game in a tough environment against a good, established program.

If you throw out the two cupcake games Florida has (McNeese and Charlotte) they play 10 competitive games this season.

They are 10 percent through those games. There are many more tests ahead.

However, this was a total F for Napier. Getting out-manned against the 14th-ranked team in the country in its stadium is one thing when you’re still building back. Handing the game away is another.

Coaches who look incompetent in Year 2 normally don’t survive long.

All the blue-chip commitments in the world won’t matter if Napier can’t keep two guys with the same jersey number from running onto the field at the same time.

Gators fans are willing to be patient with Napier, but they won’t tolerate embarrassing self-destruction.


(You can email Hays at [email protected] and follow him on X @HaysCarlyon).

Written by: Hays Carlyon

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