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Florida coach Billy Napier doesn’t want to waste Gators’ loss

“A loss gives you a chance to hit the reset button,” he said, “recenter.”
The Florida Gators' two interceptions were costly in Saturday's loss to Kentucky.
The Florida Gators' two interceptions were costly in Saturday's loss to Kentucky. [ SILAS WALKER | Lexington Herald-Leader ]
Published Sep. 12

GAINESVILLE — Florida Gators coach Billy Napier sounded the same Monday as he did late Saturday night in the immediate aftermath of his team’s home loss to Kentucky.

Measured. Calm. Deliberate. Even-keeled, as the first-year coach always is.

“A loss gives you a chance to hit the reset button, recenter,” Napier said Monday. “Everybody kind of gets hit in the gut, and I think sometimes it’s healthy. The key is that you don’t waste it, right?”

Related: Florida Gators lose to Kentucky as Anthony Richardson regresses

Napier’s approach to learning from Saturday’s failure differs significantly from what his predecessors did.

Jim McElwain started his UF career 2-0 but was livid after the Gators’ penalty-laden Week 2 win over East Carolina. He erupted — first on the sidelines at Kelvin Taylor’s unsportsmanlike conduct flag, then in a postgame news conference where he called it embarrassing to the team, the administration and the university and said reporters should be embarrassed for having to write about it.

Maybe the point got across. UF reduced its penalties slightly from the year before.

Like Napier, Dan Mullen lost his second game at home to Kentucky. Though he wasn’t fiery, he didn’t hold back about his team’s poor practice habits and lack of physicality. After the bad Missouri loss later that year, he went after his team’s competitive drive and offered to beat anyone in thumb wrestling or running steps at the stadium.

Maybe the point got across, but Mullen’s locker room eventually soured.

That’s the relevant context as No. 18 UF tries not to waste the first loss of the Napier era.

Will Levis led Kentucky to a win over Florida last week.
Will Levis led Kentucky to a win over Florida last week. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Players have consistently stressed the cultural change Napier has created. Last year’s team splintered under pressure as the losses mounted. That didn’t seem to be the case Saturday as turnovers spoiled one of UF’s most impressive defensive performances in years. A fire-and-brimstone approach — which doesn’t seem to be in Napier’s character — would risk upsetting that chemistry.

Related: AP top 25: How far did we drop the Florida Gators and Jimbo Fisher?

The measured approach also makes sense for where the Gators are as a program. The win over Utah artificially and prematurely raised expectations for a team that was expected to finish fourth in the SEC East. Napier inherited a fine but flawed roster with an inexperienced quarterback, an unimpressive receiving corps and a lack of elite playmakers. All three were preseason concerns, and all three were costly against Kentucky.

A month ago, reasonable fans would have welcomed a 1-1 start against a pair of top-20 teams, which is where UF sits heading into this weekend’s game against USF. It’s not ideal, but it isn’t inciting panic in the Heavener Football Training Center.

“You’ve got to lose in order to win,” said offensive tackle Richard Gouraige, a Cambridge Christian alumnus.

The lessons hit harder and seem clearer after defeat. This week’s start and end with turnovers.

Keidron Smith returned one of Anthony Richardson's interceptions for a touchdown.
Keidron Smith returned one of Anthony Richardson's interceptions for a touchdown. [ SILAS WALKER | Lexington Herald-Leader ]

Quarterback Anthony Richardson’s two interceptions led directly to 14 points. Though Napier said he and his staff put the Gators in bad positions a handful of times, there was no coming back from those two mistakes.

Napier believes the issues are easily fixed, either by improvement from Richardson or the players around him.

“(This) is just one chapter in the book about Anthony Richardson,” Napier said. “I told him, look, get up Sunday morning, pick the pen up and write a great page in the chapter of this part of your life and this part of your career.”

It was a calm piece of advice with a firm message. The Kentucky game was not a success. It would be an even bigger failure if Richardson and the Gators waste the opportunity to learn from it.

Kickoff information

Starting times and TV information were announced Monday for the Sept. 24 games:

Florida at Tennessee: 3:30, CBS

USF at Louisville: noon, ACC Network

Middle Tennessee at Miami: 3:30, ACC Network

Georgia Tech at UCF: 3:30 or 4, ESPN2 or ESPNU

Boston College at Florida State: 8, ACC Network

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