GAINESVILLE — When Billy Napier reviewed the Florida Gators’ overtime loss to Arkansas, he zeroed in on a dozen plays that changed the game. The Razorbacks’ 37-yard field goal in the second quarter probably wasn’t one of them.
It was, however, notable because of one glaring mistake: The Gators only had 10 players on the field. Again.
There was a technical reason for Saturday’s issue, Napier explained Monday. A defensive player on the field goal block team was injured on the previous play, and his backup “wasn’t quite on the same page.”
“That’s what happened,” Napier said.
And that would be understandable on its own, except it keeps happening. Florida didn’t have 11 players on the field during Utah’s 55-yard field goal attempt in the opener. Or on a Tennessee extra point in Week 3. Or a Charlotte kick in Week 4.
Napier provided technical explanations for those, too, like tweener calls where the Gators weren’t sure if the opponent would kick a field goal or punt.
“Look, we can do it better,” Napier said. “It’s pretty simple. Get 11 out there. Pretty simple.”
Those failures to count to 11 were, ultimately, inconsequential. But they’re part of a broader, more concerning problem: The Gators are struggling to get the details right under a coach who was hired to fix the details.
Though athletic director Scott Stricklin was careful with his words after firing Napier’s predecessor, Dan Mullen, he said generally that losses are a symptom of “a lot of little things you have to pay attention to.” One of the things Stricklin said he was looking for in Mullen’s successor was “attention to detail.”
Napier appeared to check that box; Stricklin said during Napier’s introductory news conference that “organized,” “detailed” and “methodical” were among the descriptors he often heard about his new hire. The players bought in immediately, too, raving about how he buckled down on things as trivial as making sure every player wore socks of the same color during workouts.
It’s hard to square that picture with those labels with two of the defining moments of this 5-4 season — the deployment of two players wearing the same jersey number on a punt return against Utah or Saturday’s discombobulation between the offense and field goal team in the closing seconds of regulation. Napier attributed both errors to miscommunications, and both resulted in costly penalties.
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Something, clearly, isn’t clicking. One obvious possibility for the special teams issues is the way Napier structures his staff. He does not have a dedicated special teams assistant. Instead, Florida has an analyst serve focus on special teams as the “GameChanger Coordinator,” while spreading the onfield responsibilities across his coaching staff.
Napier dismissed a question about rethinking that structure after the Utah loss. When asked generally about the performance of his entire staff Monday, he said it’s “not the time” for big-picture evaluations.
“I think when the season’s over, you go back, you quality control,” Napier said. “Sometimes you know midseason, even in the offseason, I think you have an idea where you’re going to make adjustments relative to what’s required to get us where we want to go.”
Week 12 TV, kickoff information
Start times and broadcast details were announced for the Nov. 18 games:
Louisville at Miami: Noon, ABC or ESPN
North Alabama at Florida State: 6:30 p.m., CW Network
Florida at Missouri: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Note: Information for UCF’s trip to Texas Tech will be announced after this week’s games. USF plays at UTSA on Nov. 17 (9 p.m., ESPN2).
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