Florida Football: Billy Napier’s foundation has a crack in it

Florida coach Billy Napier looks at the scoreboard during the second half against Arkansas at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida coach Billy Napier looks at the scoreboard during the second half against Arkansas at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. /

In a vacuum, Arkansas coming into The Swamp and knocking off Florida football isn’t that shocking. The Razorbacks have been on the verge of some big wins all season long, and the defense for the Gators was severely depleted due to injuries.

But the ending sequence in regulation revealed an uncomfortable truth about the setup of the Florida Gators under Billy Napier that no amount of incoming talent will be able to fix.

Florida Football: Flip this house

We here at Hail Florida Hail have been more optimistic about Napier than most. We’ve said to stop writing his obituary as he slowly ramps up his death ray machine.

Part of the bullish optimism comes from the elite talent that Napier is getting to commit to Gainesville at a level we haven’t seen for over a decade. While previous coaches might have had some good in-game management, their off-the-field shenanigans or lack of work ethic led to the foundation at Florida falling apart.

Napier’s entire selling point is that he is building a foundation that would allow the Gators to overcome a bevy of injuries and beat teams like Arkansas without everything being perfect.

And while there are plenty of fair critiques of Napier for the first 59 minutes and 52 seconds of the game against Arkansas, it’s what happened with eight seconds left that casts serious doubt on the foundation that Napier is building.

Needing just a field goal to win the game, Florida gained a first down with eight seconds to play. The clock stopped to move the chains, and Graham Mertz and company ran up to the ball to spike it to set up Trey Smack for a 39-yard field goal.

Except the special teams unit for Florida football was also running on the field in a state of panic. The Gators were assessed a five-yard illegal substitution penalty and were fortunate it wasn’t a ten-second runoff. Pushed five yards back, Smack missed a kick that would have been good if it was five yards closer.

This sequence should never happen. Anyone ever that has played Madden or NCAA knew in real-time exactly how that sequence should have played out, yet Napier and his army of 100+ analysts couldn’t figure it out.

When asked about it after the game, Napier said:

"“A player felt like he heard that specific word, that scenario. We have a player that’s in charge of that. And he did it. Ultimately, the players around him followed him.I’ll get to the bottom of it, but ultimately just having talked to that player, I think he thought he heard it, and he did his job.”"

You have what now in charge of that?

A player?

Not a coach, not an analyst, not you personally.

A player?

This is where Napier’s foundation comes to haunt him. Because he is insistent on being the offensive coordinator, his mind isn’t focused on whether or not his field goal unit is ready to run on at the correct moment.

And because Napier is insistent that the Gators have two offensive line coaches and no special team coaches among their ten paid assistants, the Gators are left with relying on a player to make that call.

Napier also said afterward he’s focused on getting the team better each week rather than asking for patience:

"“Yeah, it’s not my job to preach patience. It’s my job to coach the team. It’s my job to lead those young men in that locker room.”"

Fair enough, but let’s just say a site like ours that has been advocating patience had our first moment of genuine doubt.

The problem for Napier in the future is that no amount of incoming talent can fix a gaffe like that. One could assemble a bunch of zero-star, 5’6″ JV players to operate that sequence better than what we saw Florida football pull off.

He’s not getting fired at the end of this season. He will get one get-out-of-jail-free card to hire an offensive coordinator and a special teams coordinator. And it would be on brand for Napier to do something like upset FSU to close out the regular season.

But at some point down the road, if Napier is to have Florida football leap national contenders, a moment like yesterday in The Swamp can never happen again.

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