Billy Napier impressed with backup QB Jalen Kitna’s performance against EWU

Plenty of Florida’s backups and second-teamers got noticed after Sunday’s win over Eastern Washington, but head coach Billy Napier took time to praise quarterback Jalen Kitna, specifically.

Kitna has been listed as the team’s backup since Jack Miller III went down with a thumb injury, but this was his first time actually seeing the field. He impressed with a pair of deep passes and ended up with 152 yards and a touchdown on 8 of 12 passing. While that kind of performance may surprise some fans, Napier has seen Kitna develop into a decent quarterback.

I’m going to tell you, the last probably two weeks, he’s really grown up a lot. You go back to training camp, probably the fourth or fifth day of training camp, he got injured, so he missed significant time. But since Jack’s injury and he started getting those twos, you’ve seen some growth there.

“All the guy does is throw completions in practice and that’s what he did today. Two Thursdays ago he was 100% completion percentage in practice. I don’t know if that’s ever been done. The guy’s a pretty smart player. He’s learned our system. For the most part, the ball went where it was supposed to go today.”

Kitna played most of the second half for the Gators, but he was called into action early when Anthony Richardson went down in the first half. Richardson returned after that series, but Kitna made the most of his time on the field and found Ricky Pearsall for a 22-yard gain.

“We were still in the meat of the game and I know we are trying to put the drive together and are not going to change up the game plan for any of that,” Kitna said. “I know Coach has a specific way he calls things and I know my job is to come in there and to operate the system. All the quarterbacks in the room are taught to operate that system the same way. Whoever came in, we were calling the best play for that situation. Obviously, I got that play call and ran it how we were taught.”

When Kitna returned to the game, it was smooth sailing on offense. Kitna found true freshman Caleb Douglas for a 62-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but the offense eventually let off the gas after going up by nearly 50 points. Kitna didn’t mind and enjoyed leading the team to a win.

“Man, it felt good,” he said. “Obviously, being there, being prepared for my team, I got a job to do and going out there, it just kind of feels a bit like practice, it’s not too hard. We got our plays, we got our game plan, it was exactly what we saw. We were preparing for it all week. Just going out there and doing my job.”

As well as Kitna performed, Napier was cautious to label him as an elite backup. Sure, Kitna did well against an FCS program, but can Napier trust him in the fourth quarter of the Georgia game if Richardson goes down? Probably not. At least, not yet.

“Let’s be careful here,” Napier said. “We’ve been through this once before, I think. The guy completed some balls today, he also made a few mistakes today, too. The beautiful thing about today is he got to play, so he’s going to have more confidence. He’s going to be able to learn from this experience. He’s going to realize that the work he’s been doing paid off.”

Kitna might not be a stud SEC backup on the brink of transfer, but that’s not what he’s expected to be. Napier is clearly satisfied with his progress and now the kid has some reps under his belt in case an emergency does come up.


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