GAINESVILLE — Florida Gators coach Billy Napier will always be associated with the “scared money don’t make money” explanation he delivered at Louisiana on one of his gutsy calls. That’s fine with him.
“I think it’s going to help me justify all these times I go for fourth down and don’t get it,” Napier said after his introductory news conference.
Napier’s Gators only failed on one of their six fourth-down attempts in Saturday’s loss at Tennessee. But another prong of his go-for-it mentality — the first unsuccessful two-point conversion — left fans wondering. He was happy to explain Monday.
The call came after Montrell Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown run cut UF’s deficit to 38-27 with 4:49 left. If UF had made the extra point, another touchdown (and extra point) and field goal would have tied it.
But the Gators weren’t trying to force overtime. They were trying to win.
Napier said the Gators’ numbers show that two-score underdogs on the road (like UF) lose about 63% of the time in overtime. Napier didn’t say this part, but Tennessee was the better team. Extending the game against those Volunteers at a sold-out Neyland Stadium probably would have prolonged an inevitable loss.
If the goal was to win in regulation, then the Gators needed to go for two as early as possible so they could adjust their strategy accordingly; they’d make different decisions down nine (when a touchdown, extra point and field goal win it) than down eleven (when two touchdowns are needed to win).
“Really all you’re trying to do is declare the path early in the game,” Napier said.
Napier had plenty of opportunities to second-guess the call (a pass from Anthony Richardson) and got more questions about that decision than anything else over the weekend. But looking back, he has “no issue” with it.
In fact, it nearly worked — Richardson’s pass hit Justin Shorter in the shoulder. If tight end Keon Zipperer hadn’t tipped it in front of Shorter, maybe the receiver would have caught it.
“We got the right play,” Napier said. “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.”
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The Gators spend a lot of time and effort digging into those numbers, and Napier has worked with analytics companies in the past to get and understand the data. A staffer on the sidelines carries a binder — he calls it an encyclopedia — of data to shape those decisions.
That call didn’t work, but others did. Two successful fourth-and-short conversions led to two touchdowns instead of a punt and field goal. That’s a net of 11 points. Another helped get UF into the red zone before fumbling it away. Even if the lone failed fourth-down attempt robbed UF of a field goal, the Gators still came out ahead.
That’s why Napier stands behind the decision. Scared money didn’t make money this time, but following the numbers gave his team a shot at earning the pot on the last play.
“It’s helped us win a lot of games in the past,” Napier said of the analytics-based decisions. “I think it’s going to help us win a lot of games in the future, as well.”
Hurricane Ian update
As of early Monday afternoon, no changes have been made to this weekend’s schedule because of Hurricane Ian. UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said the Gators are monitoring the potential impact on Gainesville. Florida State coach Mike Norvell said the Seminoles have been talking with the ACC about alternate plans if Saturday’s top-25 matchup against Wake Forest cannot be played in Tallahassee.
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