Despite an outstanding offensive performance that forced the backup quarterback into the spotlight, the home team prevailed, 33-31, to send the visitors away with a 5-6 record with just a game remaining. It was yet another winnable game derailed by mental mistakes in crunch time — an issue that continues to rear its ugly head in Gainesville.
Following the game, head coach Billy Napier spoke to the media, answering their questions about his second loss in three games that came on a game-winning field goal by the opponent. Take a look below an abridged version of his responses.
I have a lot of respect for the players in that locker room. I’ve got a ton of respect. I’m proud of that group. I think we showed some resiliency tonight. And, look, you know it’s a challenge to be prepared to play physically, mentally, emotionally, when you come up short a couple weeks in a row.
To have the team ready to play, I have to compliment the leadership. I talked to the team Friday about, leaders on a team — the best leaders — make the other people around them better. They raise their level of play. They’re really good teammates. They’re invested in the other people in the organization.
Ultimately they make everyone around them better.
I think we had some guys that did a really good job in a tough week. A tough couple of weeks here being consistent in their example, the words, the actions and certainly having them ready to play. I think defensively in particular we bounced back and played a good half of football to start the game.
We’re going to see when we watch the tape, we’re going to see that there are opportunities, things we could have done better as a staff and certainly opportunities for players to make plays. But they battled. I know what’s inside those kids in there. I’m proud of that.
Credit to Missouri. I think the game ultimately came down to a couple of turnovers. Certainly a heck of a drive by a veteran quarterback there to end the game.
On Graham Mertz’s injury
Graham has a nondisplaced fracture of the collarbone. So, he’ll be out for a little bit. Probably, we’ll have more information whether it’s surgical or not. I think right now the belief is that it may not be. We’ll need to get more images before we make that decision.
On if the injury will force him to miss the FSU game
Uh, we’ll see. I’ll let you know Monday. I don’t want to speak on something when I don’t have 100% of the facts. I just know that he’s unavailable. We think it’s a pretty significant injury. I can give you a more specific timeline on Monday.
Give Max some credit. Max settled in there a little bit and made a few plays. Obviously, he’s a good athlete and we were able to use his legs a little bit in the read game. He made some throws, as well. Max has worked hard. I can’t talk enough about how much improvement since the first day he got there. And he’s a competitor. I think ultimately he showed that.
On the 4th and 17 conversion for Missouri
We were in weak rotation. We’ve got multiple players in the area and we’ve got four rushing and he found the soft spot in the zone there. Those are things, we’ll look back at a number of plays in this game and we’ll say, we could have done a little bit better. We had our opportunities for sure.
On the mood when Graham Mertz went down
First off, what a play. What a play. What a competitor.
If Gator Nation doesn’t respect Graham Mertz, OK, after watching him compete this year, then we’ve got a problem. This kid has been everything you would want from a teammate, example, leader, work ethic, motivator — game day just put it on the line.
That play in particular was a pretty special play. Did you see our sideline when that happened? I’m having to get them off the field. Again, you can’t complement the kids enough. Didn’t tuck their tails and run away. Nobody ran and hid. Let’s put the backup in and let’s go.
Ultimately we found a way to generate two more possessions, 10 more points after that. That’s what I’m getting at.
I know the scoreboard, our record is not what we all know Florida football should be. But I know what’s in there and I think they’ve shown that pretty consistently. Gotta believe there’s some good comes from it. But right now we got a bunch of kids that are hurting – hurting in here. There’s a lot of guys who played their butt off out there tonight.
On the message to the defense
That’s what you’re doing. Ultimately you’re coaching a bunch of guys that had zero experience prior to this year. That’s what it is. I think we’re teaching football while we’re competing at a high level. I just think you’ve got to continue to compete.
Ultimately we know what the issues are. I mean, whether it’s communication, alignment, eye discipline, fundamentals. You know, we know what the issues are. We just ultimately got a hunch of guys out there that are playing college football, it’s the first time they’ve done it.
So, we’re not going to give them excuses, right? We’re going to keep coaching them hard, keep giving them feedback. We have to all take ownership of this, right? It’s my leadership, it’s my organization in terms of everything that we do.
It’s our defensive staff, it’s each position coach. I mean, everybody contributes to what we see out there. I know we’re all quick to zero in on very specific things, but I think it’s what makes it a great game, is it requires a team effort to play.
On Max Brown
Well, he just played against the No. 9 team in the country on the road, so he’ll be a lot more prepared rather than not doing it. Look, Max is a worker. He’ll start when he gets back Sunday.
We’ve got a routine for the quarterback, it’s worked in the past. We’ll play to his strengths and, you know, there will be some confidence he can get from tonight after moving the team a little bit and making a handful of plays, and there’ll be things that he learned from tonight that he can do better.
And I can tell you this, I think the players will rally around the situation. You know, I thought you saw a little bit of that tonight if that makes sense. So, you know, Max has the respect of the team because he works his butt off and he’s consistent.
He’s got character. So, what a tremendous opportunity for a young player.
On the fumbled handoff exchange
Yeah, that’s the one that gets me. You know, there’s a lot going through a young man’s mind. Ultimately, we’ve got to do a better job. It’s simple, simple fundamentals.
It’s a play that he’s run multiple times in his career. We’ll look at the tape and I can tell you more, but I think it’s just gonna be very simple. Just, ball hip-to-hip with the running back. Yeah, that’s a big play in the game for sure.