Florida Football Saturday Special: Gators simplify approach in hopes of yielding greater results

By OnlyGators.com Staff
October 1, 2022
Florida Football Saturday Special: Gators simplify approach in hopes of yielding greater results

Image Credit: UAA

It may kick off 24 hours later than originally scheduled, but the Florida Gators will host the Eastern Washington Eagles on Sunday in what the hosts aim to use as a get-right game for the program. Though the Gators have impressed in spots this season, consecutive concerning performances against Kentucky and South Florida have them looking for answers ahead of a few crucial weeks of football.

Florida is a 30-point favorite on Sunday, and unlike the USF game, there’s a significant chance it covers this spread due to the drastic talent disparity between it and Eastern Washington. But the Gators should be less concerned about the scoreboard and more focused on their performances in all three phases of the game.

That starts with sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, who struggled in those back-to-back home games before finding himself on the road at Tennessee last week. Combining his Week 1 and Week 4 performances, Richardson threw for 621 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, 168 yards rushing and five scores on the ground. In Weeks 2-3, those numbers dropped drastically to 255 yards passing with four interceptions, 28 yards rushing and no touchdowns.

So yeah, his consistency has been an issue. The good news? Head coach Billy Napier was thrilled with how Richardson handled himself against the Volunteers and believes him to now be more in the grove than he has been at any point this season.

“The big thing for him is, I saw him kind of flip the switch as a competitor and really just get consumed with, ‘Hey, this is my team. I’m going to take my team, we’re going to beat your team, and I’m going to do everything I can to help my teammates and help my team win,'” Napier shared. “Just competing and not worrying about anything else — what anybody thinks or how things are going — just, ‘What’s the next decision I need to make to help the team win?’

“Ultimately, that’s where I saw a little bit of growth from him. He was enjoying it. He was embracing it. He was in his element, which ultimately as a player that’s how the game’s supposed to be played. That’s why it’s fun to play. … I’m proud of Anthony. There’s a lot of noise. You can get caught up in that, but he didn’t. He really showed up and did his job for the team.”

While Richardson’s rough performances were certainly concerning, there’s been plenty of problems on defense — both up front and in the secondary — and on special teams.

Napier’s solution? Keep it simple.

Citing that today’s generation has more distractions than any before it, Napier and the coaching staff planned the week around keeping the players focused while instituting prioritization levels in order to help improve execution. In other words: Do the basics right, and the rest will come.

“As simple as that sounds, I feel like it gets overlooked,” he said.

“If you want to be elite, if you want to be amongst the very best in the country, you gotta have a different mindset and a different approach. For us, it’s about simplifying, really narrowing our focus,” Napier continued. “What’s going to help us improve? What’s going to help us get to where we want to be as individuals, as position groups, as units and as an entire team?”

For that reason, messaging this week for Florida has been about persistence and consistency. The players need to continue ensuring they do things the right way not just once but every time they take the field.

Is that what Gators fans will see in their Week 5 showdown as Florida begins another three-game homestand at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium? There’s only one way to find out.

Let’s wrap up the week with Florida Football Friday Final Saturday Special.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

It was clear the Gators improved their defensive communication against the Vols, in large part because redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller was back in the lineup. However, it remains an issue for a young group that has some veterans among the first string but is expecting numerous first- and second-year players to step up in key positions.

While the coaching staff will continue to harp on the players to be vocal, the one element that can truly improve the unit’s communication is time.

“We’ve got some young players at some critical positions. One of our issues is that we have Ventrell and [Amari] Burney are veteran players and Rashad Torrence is obviously a veteran player, but in practice right now, you have Shemar James and Scooby [Williams], Kamari [Wilson] and Don[ovan McMillon], Miguel Mitchell … a lot of these guys at the high-communication positions are young players,” Napier said.

“They continue to learn every day, a little something different and new. I don’t know that we’re ever going to be not learning something relative to communication. That can always improve.”

Beyond this area, Napier admitted Wednesday that Florida has a “laundry list” of mistakes that need to be eliminated on a weekly basis. Coming out of the Tennessee game, he cited 12-15 plays where “Florida is beating Florida,” though it was an improvement from the first three weeks.

Clearing out the notebook

Napier addressing his decision to go for a 2-point conversion against Tennessee: “There’s two avenues when you really dig into the numbers about the approach there. First of all, you start talking about playing for a tie. When you’re on the road, there’s a slight advantage for the home team in overtime, and then there’s certainly a bigger advantage when you’re a two-score favorite. It’s about a 60-63% advantage if you’re the home team playing overtime and you’re a two-score favorite. That goes into your decision making.

“Really, all you’re trying to do is just declare the path earlier in the game. So, you go for two there. If you get it, you’re [down nine]. Now, you’re in the position to win the game with an extra point whereas, if you don’t get it, now you’re still two scores [down] with an additional opportunity to go for two. If you kick it [the first time], ultimately, the numbers are going to tell you to go for two to win the game anyway at the end of the game. So, you’re just declaring the path quicker, and that gives you a chance to adjust your strategy the rest of the game.

“This is pretty common in this era, probably the last five years this has happened a number of times. It’s all well-thought out. Going into the game, you’re very aware of all the go-for-two situations and what goes with that.”

OnlyGators.com would have published this thought from Napier sooner; however, it was identical to what we wrote in our post-game takeaways.

Napier on whether he second-guessed the move given the result: “I’ve got no issue with the decision. Heck, [if we don’t] tip our own pass, we get the 2-point conversion. We got the right play. We made the right decision. This is one of those paths you go down where a lot of people don’t understand, but we’re going to base our decision making off of research and evidence and true facts and numbers.”

Napier on being aggressive on fourth down: “Your job as a coach is to come up with a strategy to put your team in position to win. We knew going into it, part of the way you win that game is you got to control possession of the ball. You got to keep their offense off the field. … One of the ways to combat that is to stay on the field on offense. … There’s a little bit of a more aggressive approach, and from the first possession on, we took that approach. … It’s helped us win a lot of games in the past. It’s going to help us win a lot of games in the future as well.”

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