Florida Football: Billy Napier claims special teams aren't as grim as fans think

Appearing with Josh Pate, Napier acknowledged the flaws specials teams had while trying to highlight some positives
Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

If one wants to trigger a Florida Football fan, just say the words Chris Couch and watch as whatever joy was once in their face slowly fades into a sense of resignation that special teams for the Gators have been anything but since Billy Napier arrived in town.

But armed with some data to back himself up, Napier pointed out this week that despite fan perceptions, special teams were an area of strength for the Gators in 2024.

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We have chronicled multiple times the greatest hits of failures the special teams unit had in 2023.

And when asked about the perception that specials teams were an issue, Napier rattled off all those moments to Josh Pate.

But as David Soderquist of Hightop Sports points out, his follow up response felt a bit odd in the wake of all those admitted issues.

"I think there is a little bit of perception and reality. There is no question we had some organizational issues on special teams. We had a couple young players, true freshman, that made some critical mistakes. We got two jersey (number) threes on the field, we have a punt block versus Georgia, we jump over the (center) against Kentucky, we have a handful of plays where we had ten (players) on the field.

But reality is the stats would say we were pretty good. We were top 25 in the country in EPA and a couple of our units were top ten in the country. For me, one of the things we did in the offseason was add another layer of expertise. Joe Houston came over from the New England Patriots and has joined our staff this offseason.

I feel as if we have addressed some of those things. I really believe if you watch the tape, people in our profession would say they respect how we play teams. It's always been part of our DNA and culture as a team.

There is some perception there that's accurate. We've got some organizational issues that we need to address. Reality is we were effective on the field and the staff would confirm that."

Billy Napier

The stat Napier seems to be referencing is that Jeremy Crawshaw was second in the country in both average yards per punt and net yards per punt. In addition, the SP+ rating for the Gators is above average at 1.7 points, which in layman's terms means if one swapped Florida's special teams unit with Vanderbilt, who were rated at -0.1 last season, Florida would have scored 1.8 fewer points per game.

In addition to Trey Smack having a mostly great season, the SP+ metric indicates that Florida was able to produce on special teams in spite of their organizational issues because Crawshaw and Smack balled out.

But there are also two huge caveats to the SP+ rating that enables Napier to hide behind it.

The first is that it doesn't factor in that the double number three and leaping penalties directly lead to touchdowns immediately after.

The second was the one incident Napier didn't rattle off, which was emblematic of the lack of organization within the unit and directly led to the Gators' loss against Arkansas. Napier can try to dismiss the struggles to get 11 men on the field as semantics because of the plus rating, but it was that very lack of structure that created chaos for Florida as it tried to win the game against the Razorbacks.

Had the Gators executed the sequence properly, Florida would have been in a bowl game, and some of the gloom and doom proclamations heading into 2024 would have dissipated. But they didn't, and that's the problem when Napier tries to outwardly paint a rosy picture for the unit.

Crawshaw was great, Smack was great, and the Gators were considered an above average unit from advanced metrics.

But the simple math would tell you the numbers don't lie, and the inability to count to 11 foretold disaster for the Gators in 2023.