One of the frustrating aspects of watching Florida football in 2023 has been the litany of errors committed by the special teams unit. It’s a horse that died a long time ago, and yet it gets getting beat because the Gators keep getting beat due to the horse.
But given a chance during his weekly press conference to clarify some comments he made following Saturday’s loss, Billy Napier didn’t exactly evoke confidence that special teams are any closer to getting their problems fixed.
Florida Football: Counting is hard
In the wake of its loss to Arkansas, Napier was asked what caused an illegal substitution penalty when the field goal unit tried to run on the field while Graham Mertz was also trying to spike the ball.
After the game, Napier had 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.”"
So, given 48 hours or so to get to the bottom of it, Napier was asked if he figured out what the issue was.
"“I think ultimately we made a mistake there. And every part of our organization is ultimately my responsibility. So I think it’s something that we can do better. It’s my job to get it done better.”“It’s not a player’s decision. For anyone to equate that or write that or think that, I think, would be inaccurate.Ultimately, a player — one of the players is in charge of that unit, much like the quarterback when the offense takes the field. He calls the play and sets the cadence and we can take the field. That’s always a coaching decision.”"
Right, we know a mistake was made. That’s why we are all here.
And we know it can be better. The problem is that after every gaffe by the special team’s unit, the response is always, “We just have to be better,” but there is no pathway given of how it will get better.
It also doesn’t clarify who was in charge of sending the unit out. It wasn’t a player’s decision, but simultaneously, a player is in charge of that unit like a quarterback?
I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending
The substitution issue was a worst-case scenario for a unit that keeps having issue after issue.
Earlier in the game, for example, the field goal-blocking unit only sent ten guys out on the field for a 37-yard attempt by Arkansas. In a vacuum, if it were a one-time issue, we would write it off as a one-time issue.
Napier says that:
"“Yes, so we had a player injured on the possession, the play right before, and ultimately that’s what contributed to that. The backup wasn’t quite on the same page. That’s what happened.”"
It is believable that, in this one instance, the backup wasn’t ready.
But it keeps happening, and Napier has continued to write it off as a “unique situation.”
When asked what the solution is, Napier says:
"“Well, I think, look, we can do it better. It’s pretty simple. Get 11 out there. Pretty simple.”"
If the high school soccer team I coach has more goals than our opponents, we win. Pretty simple.
If I had a job that paid $150,000 a year, I could comfortably buy a boat. Pretty simple.
If my eight-month-old daughter would sleep through the night, I wouldn’t be tired. Pretty simple.
The endgame outcome of having 11 guys on the field is, in theory, pretty simple. But when that outcome isn’t happening, one has to look at the breakdown in the process and devise a solution.
And for a guy who claims he is process-oriented, it is jarring to see an issue that over 100 other college football teams seem to have figured out to be the source of so much confusion with Florida football.
The solution for Florida football is actually pretty simple. The Gators must stop relying on off-field analysts to handle the unit and have an on-field coach take charge.
Napier, we hope, knows this and is trying to protect his staff. If he doesn’t know this, his hand might get forced in the offseason.
Because for as bullish as we have been with Napier, there is a crack in his foundation that has to get fixed if the Gators are to achieve greatness moving forward.