Florida’s loss to Georgia was ugly, but now it’s Arkansas week and the Gators have a good chance to secure that all-important sixth win before facing three-straight ranked opponents to close out the season.
Billy Napier knows there are questions about his coaching decisions and team after a lopsided loss to the nation’s top-ranked team, but he opened things up with a heavy focus on Florida’s Saluting Those Who Serve theme, which will see the program debut black jerseys.
Napier later addressed his fourth-down playcalling, tackling issues and the changes from Year 1 to 2 at Florida.
Here is a full transcript of Napier’s press conference.
“Ultimately, when you have time to look at the film a little bit closer, some of the same things I said after the game I feel strongly about today.
“I think just makes me realize — and I think we all know this and you guys obviously cover our team — but everything matters. All parts of what we do contribute to the final result. And really, for me, causes me to double down on kind of what we believe, you know, from an evaluation standpoint, recruitment standpoint, having continuity and system, you know, relative to the concepts that you run.
“Scheme adjustments. I do think there’s a development component to that as well. The accumulation of reps, right? Building depth on your team. I do think that the competition that is created from depth, the quality of your walk-on program and how that can improve your practice environment. I do think the situational football and the game management piece, you know, as you as we go, becomes really important.
“There’s a set of values. there’s a character that you’d like your team to play with. There’s a chemistry, there’s a togetherness. All these things are important, you know? And I think for me, walking off that field Saturday, that’s how I felt. And I feel the same way today after watching the film. I do think there’s a lot of positives on the tape.
“There’s also areas where we have issues and we need to get better. I do think that some of the things that happened in the game are very fixable. You know, I think ultimately when we look at that with the players, I think they feel the same way. And I know as a staff there are things that we can do from a concept standpoint that can help the players in all three parts of our team.”
Turning the page to Arkansas
“We had a good day with the players yesterday. I’ve got confidence in our group relative to their attitude and their approach. I think the key thing for us here is what matters most today. You know, I think regardless of what’s happened in the past, I do think that this as a group, every single detail this week, you know, really challenging all parts of the organization to do their best work.
“We need to be operating at our best. Firing on all cylinders. We need to lead our people. We need to impact our people and get consumed with preparing for this game. You know, I do think Arkansas, although their record doesn’t reflect it, they’ve been in every football game. This is a (team) that’s lost a lot of close games.
“I do think that they’ve played really good defense for the most part, and I know offensively they’ve made a change and know Sam Pittman personally. I have a ton of respect for him as a coach and a man, and I do think they’re a lot closer than their record indicates. So this will be a challenge.”
Soldout crowd and black uniforms/Saluting Those Who Serve
“You know, we’re excited about playing in front of a sold-out crowd. This week for me is important for a lot of reasons. You know, we’re doing something really unique, relative to the Saluting Those Who Serve theme of the week. We’re going to honor all of our military members, our veterans, local first responders are included in that group. We’re going to wear black uniforms for the first time in school history.
“I know everybody’s excited about the uniform, but I do think it’s important. I don’t want to lose sight of the intent here, you know, relative to what we’re trying to do. We really want to create awareness and show gratitude and appreciation for these people who chose a life of service and ultimately put their life at risk to protect some of these freedoms that I believe sometimes we all take for granted.
“Each player on the team’s jersey will display one of the five core values on the back of the nameplate. We worked with the military branches in the state and here locally. We allowed them to select the core values that they wanted to use. Those five core values are honor, courage, commitment, excellence, and integrity. So you’ll see that this week when we play, we’re also going to carry out the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag of the tunnel this week.
“I do think it’s important that we never forget those prisoners of war, their sacrifice, and certainly those that are missing in action. I also want to point out that our civil engagement piece with the players today at 2:45, we’re going over to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here, Randall Malcolm Center in Gainesville, and spend some time with some veterans, with our players.
“We’re hopeful that that experience, along with a number of speakers that we’ll have at practice. We’ll have someone from different branches of our military talk to the team. We started that last night with the team. So, it’s an important week in that regard. Certainly, it’s a critical week for our football team relative to where we’re at. And certainly, Arkansas presents a number of challenges.
Was there a need to call trick plays against more physical teams (Georgia)?
“No, I don’t feel that way at all. I mean, I think ultimately, you know, every week’s a little bit different, right? Your team has strengths. Their team has strengths, and vice versa.
“You know, relative to weaknesses, you try to position the team for success. You’re combating the players that you think can be issues for you. The more good players they have, the more challenging that is right. The more good players you have, the more opportunity you have to neutralize that, right? So I think every week is a little bit different.
“In this league, most weeks that you play and all parts of their team, they have a significant player. Sometimes, they have one at every level, you know? Different skill players, maybe their front, whatever the case may be. So I think each week’s a little bit different. You try to do what you think is in the best interest of the team that week.”
How coaching changes at Arkansas affects preparation for Saturday
“Yeah, no, I think it’s a big part of the story this week relative to the prep. They made a change in the off-season. Obviously, Kendall made a move to go to TCU and then they brought Dan in and that was a wholesale change, right? So, you know, Coach Guyton will be calling it this week and he has experience with Kendall in the past. Certainly, played quarterback at Ohio State.
“So, you know, what flavor do we get? With an open day, I think that magnifies that a little bit. But Coach Pittman’s an offensive line coach. His teams are tough, and certainly, I think there’ll be an element of that. He’ll have some imprint on the offense.
“I do think that that’s an element of the game and I think ultimately for us we’re going to have to find the right balance of prep in terms of what we expose the players to, but also being ready to adjust within the game.”
On potentially clinching bowl eligibility
“Yeah, I mean, I think there’s an element to that. Certainly that could happen this week, but ultimately I don’t necessarily think we’re thinking about that as much as we’re talking about we’ve got to get consumed with the things that can affect the outcome of Saturday, right?
There is a benefit to bowl games. There’s no question about that. You know, I do think with the team that we have in particular that could be beneficial.”
More on military awareness/black jersey
“I think 9/11 was, you know, I was a college student. To some degree, I think there was an element to that, and I think there’s a generation of people that, you know, were affected by 9/11 to some degree.
“I mean, you look at the recruitment of all branches of our military and the increase in membership that they saw. You get into becoming a head coach. You know, I think being around, it’s your platform. There are things that you get a chance to emphasize with your players. And look at this started with black uniforms at Louisiana.
“The kids wanted to wear black uniforms, and I was like, well, okay, but why? Why are we going to do it? And ultimately we decided to build it around this theme. We did it at Clemson. We wore purple uniforms there. So, I think it’s been beneficial for the kids. I just think there’s an awareness that — we have a game that has a platform and we can do some good. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
On advantages of playing in the Swamp
“Just in in general, I think home-field advantage is a real thing, especially in our league.
“You’re making the opponent execute in a little bit different environment, you know, and our people can impact the game. They’ve impacted games this year. They’ve impacted a lot of games in the past. So, it’s a special place to play. We’re sold out Saturday. This could be really a unique event. It’s going to be a historic event.
“The team drives all that energy no matter what anybody says. I think there’s an element of that you don’t get at a neutral site or you don’t get on the road, right? So we’ve benefited from it. They make it more challenging for the opponent and certainly, you get the benefit of not having to travel, right?
“It’s a special place, man. I think there’s an element, there’s a respect there. I think the players, there’s a sense of responsibility. When you run out of that tunnel, there’s been some great teams and great competitors to do before you.”
Comparing progress in Year 2 to Year 1
“I think the biggest difference would be the makeup of our roster, you know, relative to who’s gaining experience, who’s been productive, the leadership that we see at the player level, the level of discipline that we observe every day, the camaraderie, the chemistry of the group. And look, I think the football’s improved in a lot of areas on our team.
I mean, there’s areas where we have gotten better. There’s still areas where we need to play with more consistency. Overall, I think we’re operating at a little bit more efficient rate. I think there’s good processes in place. We’re getting better at what we do. We haven’t necessarily got the results we wanted a couple of times this year, but I do think that there’s improvement in the big picture.”
On going for it on fourth down
“Ultimately, you get judged on the outcome of those decisions, but I think it’s more of a big-picture approach.
“Seems like it’s happened less this year maybe than it happened last year, if that makes sense. But I do think that we work hard at it. It’s not just a singular event on game day. It’s more of a holistic approach that we spend a ton of time on in the offseason relative to strategy. And I think it’s sound. I do.
“I think that you’re seeing it at all levels of football. We just have access to information that we didn’t have before, right? So I think the analytics, the technology that’s available, we can basically analyze the history of the game and tell you exactly why it’s beneficial to do at times.
“I do think there’s some subjectiveness to it relative to the current dynamic within the game, you know, and those are the things that keep you up at night.
“But when it works, everybody pats on the back. When it doesn’t work, you know, they throw you out the trash. So it is what it is. We played Utah in the opening game last year. We went for it on fourth down. We threw a touchdown and everybody was excited. And when it doesn’t work, they’re not.”
On the defense finishing plays
“I think there’s definitely yards after catch. I think it’s what happens before the catch ultimately that I think contributes to that. Our ability to affect the quarterback, play better coverage and then once the ball’s thrown, we’ve got to break on the ball and get the guy on the ground.
“That’s one of the areas we can improve for sure. Relevant question.”
More on the decision to go for it on fourth down
“I can see both sides of it, if that makes sense.”
“I’m just talking about the decision. And there were other plays that I think about sometimes maybe we get a call. But, you know, I think that play would have worked. To get real specific about what happened, I think it was just one of those things, right? Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t. But yeah, I mean, I think more about the opponent.
“It’s 10-7. You know, at that point in the game, you know, that’s what I think about. I don’t necessarily think about the play call.”
On T.J. Searcy's tackle
“We pointed it out with the team yesterday in the team meeting. I think it’s an extra-effort play. The ball’s thrown, you know, the guy goes in full-speed pursuit. Runs the guy down. You know his GPS number on that play was (high). He ran as fast as any skill player the whole day.
“So, T.J is a good example of a young player who has traits, who’s tough, who goes about his business the right way. He’s a true freshman who’s getting valuable experience and ultimately has been a bright spot. You know, But I think when you see some of those intangibles that you will as a coach from young players, you can build off of that and that was an impressive play.”