GAINESVILLE — As Florida Gators coach Billy Napier tries to rebuild his team into a national championship contender, every member of his program will be confronted with issues like the one Napier faced after Saturday’s upset of rival Tennessee.
Returning to the locker room to see 268 unread text messages.
“Try to delete them all — that’s what I try to do,” Napier said. “Got work to do.”
So do his No. 25 Gators, who can start by working on how to handle success — something they struggled with last season.
After Florida crushed South Carolina in November, the Gamecocks upset a pair of top-10 teams (Tennessee and Clemson). The Gators lost three in a row, including their first loss at Vanderbilt in three decades.
“Last year’s team couldn’t handle momentum,” Napier said Monday. “We failed to capitalize several times throughout the season. I think this group has the right approach, and I’m excited about the work that we’re going to do this week.”
It’s too early to tell whether Florida has had the right approach since leaving Ben Hill Griffin Stadium after the first rivalry triumph of Napier’s tenure. Though Napier liked what he saw and heard in the 36 hours after the game, he said the real indicators come Tuesday and Wednesday.
But if the Gators don’t handle their first major taste of success this season well, that will be apparent early Saturday. Charlotte — an AAC newcomer — is a 1-2 mid-major program that would be easy for Florida to look past, especially with a trip to Kentucky on deck. The 49ers took a 14-0 lead at undefeated Maryland two weeks ago; that suggests they’re good enough to scare the Gators if Florida comes out flat or unfocused.
The Gators, however, are trying to learn from last season. Napier said his staff won’t harp on those issues this week because they stressed them all offseason.
“I think it’s part of the messaging from the jump when you evaluate the season, right?” Napier said. “Ultimately it’s leadership all throughout the organization.”
Florida-Tennessee scuffle aftermath
Tight end Dante Zanders and starting offensive linemen Damieon George and Micah Mazzccua have been suspended for the first half this week for their roles in the odd scuffle that marred the end of the Tennessee game, the SEC announced Monday. It began when quarterback Graham Mertz took a late hit after kneeling. Shoving followed, with Mazzccua eventually swiping at Vols defensive back Kamal Hadden.
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“I think ultimately that’s a teachable moment,” Napier said of the incident. “It’s an opportunity for us to talk about composure and poise, ego, temper.”
Tennessee’s Omarr Norman-Lott also has been suspended for a half this week in the Volunteers’ home game against Texas San Antonio.
Florida State star Jordan Travis was sore after an apparent injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Seminoles coach Mike Norvell said he is “not worried about what his health will be here moving forward,” starting with this week’s marquee matchup at Clemson.
Eugene Wilson, Florida’s dynamic freshman receiver from Tampa’s Gaither High, won’t be sidelined long from the upper-body injury he sustained against Tennessee. Napier said Wilson’s issue will be pain tolerance, and he could return as soon as this week.
Week 5 kickoff information
Kickoff times and TV information have been announced for Sept. 30 games:
Florida at Kentucky: Noon, ESPN or SEC Network
Baylor at UCF: 3:30 p.m., FS1 or FS2
USF at Navy: 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Florida State and Miami are both off next week.
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