GAINESVILLE – Florida football’s 24-15 loss to undefeated Florida State followed a familiar, tired script.
Coach Billy Napier’s team took a 12-0 lead as a sellout crowd at the Swamp shook backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker. But the Gators (5-7) stumbled down the stretch as penalties, offensive ineptitude and special teams mistakes sent UF to its fourth straight loss as they led through the second half to end 2023 on a five-game skid. .
“We didn’t have the season we wanted to have,” linebacker Teradja Mitchell said. “When it was necessary, we did not execute it.”
Here you learn three things:
Changes are coming
UF has now recorded three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1945-47, while Napier’s 11-14 start is the worst by a Florida coach after 25 games since Charley Pell went 9-15-1 in 1979-81.
Something has to give. Clearly things are not working out.
Napier’s job appears to be secure just two years into a seven-year, $51.8 million contract with a buyout of about $32 million. But the 44-year-old has some big decisions ahead of him involving assistant coaches and an army of support staff.
“You have to be as objective as possible,” he said. “We work together as a team every day and have good morale, chemistry and camaraderie. Ultimately, we have to produce.”
Napier and his team have failed in virtually every aspect except the recruiting process.
The 2024 class is ranked No. 5 nationally, according to 247Sports, but three players withdrew earlier this month. National Signing Day isn’t until December 20, giving others time to change their minds.
Meanwhile, Napier will have to decide whether to remain the play-caller, keep two assistants coaching the offensive line, put a full-time assistant coach in charge of special teams and evaluate the strength program after watching the Gators. being pushed throughout the season. .
Napier regularly highlighted the team’s youth, as seven freshmen appeared in each game and many more appeared throughout the season. Redshirt freshman Max Brown managed just 81 total yards during his first start in place of Graham Mertz, who broke his collarbone during a Nov. 18 loss at Missouri.
“It’s important for all of us to understand that we will have a good core of returning players who will have significant experience next year,” he said. “Look at the teams around the country that are having success. They have veteran football teams. They have several players that have been in the program for several years.
“We need to do that. We need to retain the players. We need to continue adding quality players.”
The NCAA transfer portal opens on December 4, which will lead to player attrition and acquisition. Signing day is two weeks later.
However, Napier and his new-look staff will have to get more out of their players in 2024.
Player development was lacking across the board. Florida continued to make key mental mistakes from Week 1 at Utah through Week 12 against FSU.
A challenging off-season lies ahead but it beats the alternative for Napier as coaching changes take place across the country.
The lack of discipline in Florida was alarming
Almost as shocking was Napier’s apparent lack of awareness.
When asked about his team’s litany of mental errors, he asked for clarification.
“Discipline? What do we mean specifically?” Napier asked.
This after a game in which two players were ejected, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jamari Lyons for spitting on the Seminoles player and veteran defensive back Jaydon Hill for targeting. Hill’s hit on FSU quarterback Tate Rodemaker after a 10-yard play on third-and-14 drew a 15-yard penalty to extend a drive and give the Noles a 24-15 lead.
UF entered the final 15 minutes with a 15-14 lead, but committed 50 yards on penalties and had minus 15 yards of offense as FSU pulled away. The Gators finished with a season-high 90 penalty yards.
UF averaged 7.3 penalties per 56 yards in losses and 5.6 flags per 40.6 yards in wins.
“There’s no excuse for that,” he said.
Some cases have been worse and more costly than others. Running a clean operation doesn’t require X’s and O’s acumen, but it does come down to the fundamentals of training.
Upon his arrival, Napier prided himself on the attention to detail and that his team did not beat themselves. However, he continued to field one unable to get out of his own way at the most critical moments.
The fans deserve better.
An announced crowd of 90,341 at Senior Night fared better than the players on the field.
Florida harnessed the energy while Rodemaker and the FSU offense were out of bounds, culminating in a safety for a 12-0 lead. But the Gators were outscored 24-3 from there, managing just 48 yards in the second half and finishing with arguably the sloppiest 15 minutes of a failed season.
To attend a game at the Swamp, fans invest time and money, often facing long lines, inconvenience and discomfort, including rainy and cold conditions on Saturday night. UF sold out five games in 2023 and had an average attendance of 89,587, its highest since 2015.
Napier’s team responded by surprising Tennessee, but lost to an Arkansas team without an SEC victory and rivaled FSU in discouraging fashion.
“Our fans were fantastic,” Napier said. “We’re grateful they showed up tonight doing their part.”
It’s time for Napier and company to do their thing.
Edgar Thompson can be reached at email@example.com