One of the common themes surrounding Billy Napier and Florida football from people who believe in his vision is patience. Most fans who see the foundation being built and appreciate the efforts in recruiting see a light at the end of the tunnel.
The difficult part is that between now and then the on-field product will be less than perfect. One also has to juxtapose their utopian vision for the future with real concerns they have in the present.
One of the more debatable areas of Napier’s approach in 2022 was his willingness to go for it on fourth down. While coaches all across college football are more willing to go for it in the modern game, did the way Napier went about it in 2022 help or hurt the Gators over the course of the season?
Florida Football: Go for it
We ran a simple experiment and plugged into Excel the 28 times Florida went for it on fourth down in 2022. We noted the yard line they were on, how far they had to go, whether they were successful, and did the end result gain or lost points for the Gators.
That last part was subjective, but if Florida could have settled for a field goal, converted, then scored a touchdown later in the drive, we gave credit for four points. Likewise, if the Gators went for it and failed when they could have, kicked a field goal, we took away three points.
We also took away points if the ensuing drive by the opponent resulted in points they otherwise wouldn’t have scored due to their improved field position.
The results indicate that on a macro level, Napier’s fourth down strategy was the correct one for the Gators.
According to TeamRankings.Com, Florida had the 30th most fourth down conversions in the country. Their conversion rate, however, was 72nd in the country.
So you might be wondering how is it that with a negative conversion rate that the Gators still had a net positive of 18 points?
Because four of their failed conversions were in situations where they had zero choice but to go for it at the end of the game, and the opponent just ran the clock out afterward (LSU, UGA, Vanderbilt, FSU).
Also, when you factor in one of their “failed” conversions was a botched field goal attempt against USC, Napier’s success rate in 2022 was actually 56% in situations where he had an option of whether he wanted to go for it or not, 40th best in the country.
The only two games where Florida football had a net negative in points were against Kentucky, when Napier went for it on fourth and six from Florida’s own 26, and against LSU when Napier went for it on fourth and four from the 12 rather than kick a field goal.
Against Utah, Tennessee, Missouri, and Vanderbilt, the choices to go for it on fourth down resulted in a net gain of points vs if Napier had played it safe.
One would have to imagine that Napier will keep up his strategy in 2023. The difficulty to evaluate from game to game is that while the macro strategy is generally a good one, there will be micro situations where his aggressiveness will cost the Gators.
Napier once said something about scared money, which dictates his approach to fourth down.