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What can Florida Gators fans expect from Billy Napier? ‘Winning football’

Here’s what UF fans should focus on Saturday when Billy Napier coaches Louisiana in the Sun Belt championship.
Billy Napier has won plenty of games at Louisiana. He'll coach his final one Saturday before leaving for the Florida Gators.
Billy Napier has won plenty of games at Louisiana. He'll coach his final one Saturday before leaving for the Florida Gators. [ MATT STRASEN | AP (2020) ]
Published Dec. 2, 2021

New Florida coach Billy Napier will end his week of double-dipping Saturday when he coaches No. 20 Louisiana in the Sun Belt Conference championship against Appalachian State.

Napier has a chance to go out with his first outright conference title. Gators fans have a chance to get one more look at the coach who was hired to put Florida back in contention for championships.

Related: Billy Napier isn’t Lincoln Riley or Brian Kelly. That’s okay, Florida Gators fans.

So what should UF fans expect?

“Winning football,” Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill said.

More specifically, look for physical football along both lines.

“I think the biggest thing is their toughness,” Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark said.

Louisiana has a reputation for being tough under coach Billy Napier.
Louisiana has a reputation for being tough under coach Billy Napier. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP ]

Napier’s offensive linemen knock defenders down. His defensive linemen plow through blocks.

In the only loss this season (38-18 to Texas in Week 1), the Ragin’ Cajuns were overmatched in talent but were not overpowered. When Louisiana upset Iowa State last year, Napier’s defense stopped the Cyclones’ run game better than most teams, and his rushing offense put up nearly identical numbers as mighty Oklahoma did.

Related: 5 things Florida fans should know about Billy Napier

Though the Ragin’ Cajuns rush (473 attempts) more than they pass (341), they’re comfortable doing both. Mobile quarterback Levi Lewis has thrown 72 career touchdown passes and broke Jake Delhomme’s school record earlier this year. Napier uses Lewis well as a runner and thrower; imagine what his offense will look like next fall with Anthony Richardson.

Napier’s offense is modern with plenty of shifts, motions and misdirection, but it’s not exotic.

Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis has thrown more touchdown passes than anyone in program history.
Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis has thrown more touchdown passes than anyone in program history. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP ]

“He’s going to run what he runs,” Clark said. “That’s why he’s one of the best play callers in college football — because they do it better than everybody else ...

“They execute. (When) you watch the tape, there’s not many missed assignments or bad play-calling. It’s about execution.”

Related: 5 takeaways from Billy Napier’s first remarks since taking Florida Gators job

Napier’s team executes well because of his coaching but also the recruits he signed. The only Sun Belt team with more talent is Arkansas State, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

Sack leader Chauncey Manac (9½) originally signed with Georgia and was recruited by UF. Defensive lineman Tayland Humphrey was offered by Alabama as a junior college prospect. Sun Belt freshman of the year Montrell Johnson was an Arizona commit, and the team’s leader in touchdown catches (Kyren Lacy) picked Louisiana over Miami and Houston. Max Mitchell was only a two-star recruit but blossomed into one of the top offensive tackles in the nation.

Louisiana linebacker Chauncey Manac was a former Georgia signee who ended up with Billy Napier's Ragin' Cajuns.
Louisiana linebacker Chauncey Manac was a former Georgia signee who ended up with Billy Napier's Ragin' Cajuns. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP ]

“They’ve got great players,” Clark said. “I think that’s a credit to him and how he’s recruited there.”

If you watch ESPN’s broadcast Saturday, you’ll probably hear Napier’s famous line: “Scared money don’t make money.”

Translation: “He certainly will take some risk,” Gill said.

Against Georgia State, Napier went for it three times on fourth down inside the Panthers’ 15. The first two failed, but the third resulted in a touchdown that helped turn a 10-0 deficit into a 21-17 victory that clinched the division title.

Against Texas, Napier went for it three times on fourth and 1 inside his 34. All three succeeded, and all three drives ended in scores (a field goal and two touchdowns).

To win big at Florida, he’ll need more than fourth-down success. He’ll need to overhaul the Gators like he did the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Related: Can Billy Napier Sabanize the Florida Gators where Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp couldn’t?

“If you look at it from the first year he was there until now, it’s night and day,” Clark said. “I think he’s established what he wants done with his program.”

And not long after Saturday’s Sun Belt championship game ends, Napier will turn his full attention to establishing what he wants done with his new one.

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