Napier discusses Florida’s performance in the loss to Georgia

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Billy Napier said his team’s focus heading into the bye week was simple: identify the common denominators in his team’s wins and losses while trying to find ways to encourage the former and eliminate the latter.

Florida’s problems in the first seven games couldn’t be more clear. Defensively, it was terrible on third downs and almost as bad in pass coverage, especially when the tight ends were slowed down. The consistency with which the Gators stopped the run and rushed opposing quarterbacks was also a red flag.

Offensively, turnovers plagued the team, especially in the second half of quarterback games Anthony Richardson he threw six of his seven hits. Of course, a passing attack that shot in fits and starts proved costly.

And for much of Florida’s 42-20 loss to No. 1 Georgia on Saturday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field, many of those issues continued to rear their ugly heads, ultimately dropping the Gators to 4-4 on the season and 1-4 in SEC play.

“Not good enough,” Napier said after the game. “I have to train better, lead better, the players need to play better. Simple enough. I think the execution can be better.”

In the first half, Florida was pounded on both sides of the ball.

After being forced to punt on their first offensive possession, the Bulldogs drove past the Gators on an eight-play, 66-yard drive to open the scoring. Georgia went on to score unanswered touchdowns on two of its next three series, pushing out to a quick 21-0 lead that sent some of the Gator faithful heading to their cars.

In the first quarter alone, Georgia’s offense racked up 186 total yards in roughly nine minutes of possession and converted two of three third downs.

Florida players and coaches see this as an opportunity to improve moving forward.

“We’ve just got to understand it, we’ve got to take stock and understand what happened today leading up to tonight,” the redshirt freshman defensive end Tyreak Sapp he said. “What happened? How can we build on each other as a team and as an organization? Just, how can we build on that and be better from all the mistakes, just everything that happened. Just coming together better as a team and playing more complementary football, that is all.”

While Florida’s defense was dominated early in the game by Georgia’s efficient offensive attack, the Gator offense was sufficiently stifled by the Bulldogs’ highly rated defense.

Florida failed to get a first down on each of its first four possessions before successfully reaching territory to attempt a 52-yard field goal on a kick from the redshirt freshman. Adam Mihálek in the second quarter, a period in which Florida gave up another 160 yards of offense without scoring another point.

While the symptoms may have been different, the root of Florida’s early offensive problems hasn’t changed. Richardson’s passes lacked accuracy and open reads were clearly lacking. Napier was honest about those early problems.

“I think we dug ourselves a hole in the first half against a really good football team that has good personnel, is well coached and plays great compensation ball,” he said.

“I think we had ineffective runs, we got behind the posts, we had to play some third-and-longs against a group that can rush the passer. And a handful of three-and-outs early there. You know, we dug ourselves a hole and I think we learned, they’re a good defensive group.”

While the first half showed no improvement over Florida’s previous results, the group flashed some size in the third quarter during a 10-minute stretch, scoring 17 unanswered points and creating two key turnovers.

Florida’s opening drive of the second half spanned 13 plays and 75 yards, just 13 of Florida’s first-half total.

On Georgia’s first play after the game at halftime, Florida’s senior linebacker Amari Burney successfully forced a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line, a play that set up a 26-yard field goal for the Gators to bring them back within two of their rival.

It was Burney again who played the hero for the Gators when he intercepted an errant throw from Georgia senior signal caller Stetson Bennett, a turnover that preceded a 78-yard touchdown pass from Richardson to the sophomore receiver. Xavier Hendersonwho remained untouched throughout his touchdown play.

It was a positive stretch for a team struggling to put together offensive production with sustainable defensive success to match, a potential glimpse of what the Gators could be if they continue to improve.

“What I respect about that group of men in the locker room is that they really care,” Napier said. “They’ve worked hard to get to know each other, to work together, to play this game the way it’s meant to be played — and that’s for each other. I think we saw a bit of that, challenged them at half-time and certainly responded in the right way. We were able to get a score, create something to take away and put it back in the game.”

But Florida’s run came to a screeching halt as Georgia relied on the ground game to get back on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs scored one more time while Florida was held scoreless the rest of the game.

“I think every game we’ve played to a certain extent, for me just speaking personally, especially when you play other teams in our league, I think it’s a benchmark,” Napier said earlier in the week. .

And when compared to Florida’s performance on Saturday night, it’s clear the program still has some work to do before it can once again establish itself as one of the nation’s most formidable teams. However, in a brief stretch in the third quarter, Florida fans may have gotten a glimpse of what the team could be.

“There’s a lot to play for,” Sapp said. “There’s a lot of it.” No doubt, no doubt. We don’t stop here. We look forward to going out and passing the table. And it’s no problem for us. We’re just going to go out there, get here and work these few weeks and set ourselves up for success. Because that’s all you’re going to see from us from now on – successful.”


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