3 things learned from Gators’ gut-wrenching overtime loss to Arkansas in the Swamp

Florida’s 39-36 loss in overtime to Arkansas is the Gators’ latest low point under second-year coach Billy Napier.

Here are 3 things learned Saturday in the Swamp:

Napier needs to shake up his operation

The Gators’ illegal substitution during the final seconds of regulation was inexcusable, effectively icing kicker Trey Smack while tacking on 5 yards to his game-winning field-goal attempt.

Smack’s 44-yard miss allowed Arkansas (3-6, 1-5) to earn its first SEC win and sent Napier to his second defeat against a team with a losing record — a fate never suffered by Dan Mullen, Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp and Ron Zook, all predecessors eventually fired.

If not for squandered timeouts, odds are Florida would have won and secured bowl eligibility, given Smack was 13 of 14 before the miss, including earlier makes of 47 and 34 yards.

Sideline chaos intensified the pressure on the sophomore.

To review: Following a completion from Graham Mertz to Arlis Boardingham, UF’s kicking team ran onto the field as the offense prepared to spike the ball. Confusion reigned when an unidentified player summoned the field-goal unit onto the field, having thought he heard a coach’s cue.

“There’s no question there was confusion there,” Napier said. “That one I haven’t been around before. We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

UF fortunately avoided a 10-second run-off ending regulation play because the first down stopped the clock. Napier could have avoided the entire scenario if he’d not wasted two timeouts on a Gators’ drive early in the fourth quarter.

A head coach now with 74 games of experience, with a staff of 10 assistants and dozens of analysts, continues to make operational errors and game-management miscues.

Florida now must defeat a ranked opponent during the final three games — at LSU, at Missouri and vs. Florida State — to avoid a five-game skid and first losing regular season since 2017.

An offseason of soul-searching, strategic evaluation and staffing decisions awaits.

Trey Wilson is special

The Gators’ true freshman receiver continues to be a bright spot.

Wilson’s burst and instincts produced first-quarter touchdown catches of 19 and 6 yards to erase an early deficit. He finished with 8 receptions and a career-high 90 yards, giving him 19 grabs for 165 yards and 3 scores the past two games.

“He’s a really gifted player,” veteran receiver Ricky Pearsall marveled.

Wilson has quickly alleviated durability concerns.

He missed a game with a bruised collarbone suffered against Tennessee. Since his return, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Tampa native has shown he can handle a heavy workload.

The Gators need him on the field to have a chance against explosive offenses from LSU, Missouri and FSU.

“We definitely need to make plays,” Mertz said. “We know what’s ahead of us.”

Special teams were better — until they were as bad as ever

The game’s third phase has been a comedy. But against Arkansas, special teams helped the Gators storm back early before ultimately costing them.

Trailing 14-0, UF downed a punt by Jeremy Crawshaw on the Arkansas 6 to stall the Razorbacks’ attack and force a punt returned 33 yards by Pearsall. Six plays later Wilson scored.

After another Arkansas three-and-out, Pearsall returned a punt 40 yards to the Hogs’ 42. Trevor Etienne’s 32-yard, first-down run set up Wilson’s second touchdown.

A comedy of errors soon ensued, no gaffe worse than a missed extra point. After the Gators’ took their first lead, at 23-20, a botched snap and hold kept the Razorbacks within a field goal — and eventually force OT with one.

UF also lined up with 10 men during an Arkansas field-goal attempt, a recurring mistake since a season-opening loss Aug. 31 at Utah.

On Saturday, Napier blamed UF’s youth, a dozen true freshmen have played at least seven games and praised the coverage and return units, which also included 83 yards on 3 kickoffs to Etienne.

“We had a few young people that had opportunities,” Napier said. “That’s what I would say.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at