Playing close to vest came back to bite Florida football coach Billy Napier against No. 5 FSU

Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier collars at the officials during first half action as Florida takes on Florida State at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Saturday, November 25, 2023. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

Two years ago, Florida football coach Billy Napier energized the fanbase with the mantra, "scared money don't make money."

Before a sellout crowd on Saturday night at The Swamp, however, Napier continued his more recent trend of coaching scared. Those decisions came back to bite the Florida Gators, as UF was unable to hold a double-digit lead in an eventual 24-15 loss to rival No. 5 Florida State.

Early in the second quarter, UF chose to take three points on a 35-yard field goal rather than go for it on 4th-and-1.

In the third quarter, Florida went with three straight run plays on first-and-10 from FSU's 23-yard line, gaining just three yards before settling for a 37-yard field goal that put UF up 15-14.

Florida again ran the ball three straight times late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, gaining just seven yards on a three-and-out series.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Max Brown, who completed 7 of 10 passes in the first half, attempted just six passes in the second half in his first career start.

"There's no question we'll be able to look back at this thing and say, 'Hey, maybe we should have taken a different approach,'" Napier said. "But at that point defensively we were really humming. I think we held them to like 85 yards in the first half. I'm not exactly sure what the numbers were, but they were struggling to move it."

Napier says Florida football QB Max Brown 'did his part'

Napier said Brown "did his part" to put Florida in position to win the game. Brown completed six of his first seven passes and made some good read option runs in leading UF on a touchdown and field goal drive.

"It just comes down to being able to put points on the board in the red zone in our territory, man," Brown said. "Make it easier on our defense. They played lights out."

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Brown finished 9-for-16 for 86 yards, as well as an interception with 1:33 remaining when UF was down by nine and desperate for a late score. He also was sacked six times behind an offensive line that was without starting left tackle Austin Barber. Dameion George Jr. started at left tackle and was unable to consistently protect Brown's blind slide.

Questions will swirl in the offseason as to whether Napier will hold onto his dual role as head coach and play caller. Florida had scored 31 or more points in three straight games with starting quarterback Graham Mertz under center. But with Brown, Napier took perhaps a too cautious approach.

Instead of wrecking FSU's College Football Playoff hopes, Florida wrecked its final chance to earn a postseason trip, failing to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2017.

"I can certainly do more to help the players," Napier said. "I think, when we look back at it, there's going to be -- whether it's a sack in the red area or a holding penalty right before the half that contributes to the outcome. So Florida State's got a really good defensive team, and they made their plays, but we also contributed at times. There are things that we can do better."

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Florida Gators football coach Billy Napier calls conservative game vs. FSU