Florida Football: The roster is improved, now can Gators avoid mental errors in 2024?

Four key moments from 2023 doomed the Gators and it wasn't due to talent on the roster
Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun / USA

With the commitment of Elijhah Badger, Florida Football has a roster that is talented enough to navigate the gauntlet of schedule that faces them in 2024. With the offensive line being the biggest wild card of the bunch, it isn't crazy to state that Florida has the talent to go 8-4 or better.

But one could argue Florida had the talent last season to go 8-4 or better, and, as we all know, they did not.

The mental errors from the coaching staff that cost the Gators in 2023 are still one massive question mark that will be looming over the team heading into 2024.

Florida Football: Count To 11

Billy Napier and crew went 5-7 last season. In three of those losses, the Gators were simply outclassed by the opposition, and multiple moments led to their defeat (Kentucky, Georgia, and LSU).

But in their other four losses (Utah, Arkansas, Missouri, and FSU), there were back breaking moments in each game and Florida could have had a better fate if those moments had gone the other way:

Utah - Only down 7-3, Florida forced a third down stop in the second quarter, and Utah punted. Jason Marshall and Tre Wilson both went out to return the punt. The only problem is that both were wearing number three, resulting in a five-yard penalty and a first down. Utah would score a touchdown four plays later and won the game 24-11.

Arkansas - Driving to kick a game-winning field goal, Florida got a first down with 15 seconds left, and Graham Mertz ran up to spike the ball. At the same time, the field goal unit ran onto the field. Amid the chaos, Florida was assessed a five-yard penalty, and Trey Smack missed the game-winning field goal. Arkansas would go on to win in overtime.

Missouri - After Mertz went down with a broken collar bone, Max Brown had put the Gators in a position to win the game. Missouri faced a fourth and 17 as their last gasp. Missouri receiver Luther Burden was left open 20 yards down the field, and the Tigers would drive down and kick a game-winning field goal.

FSU - In the first half, the Gators had FSU on the ropes following a safety to make it 12-0. After the ensuing punt gave the Gators the ball across midfield, a clock-draining touchdown drive could have been a knockout blow early to the Seminoles. Florida attempted a double reverse flea flicker that was blown up, and the Gators were called for intentional grounding. FSU would storm back and win the game 24-15.

Against Arkansas and Missouri there is zero debate, if those plays get flipped the Gators win the game. The Utah and FSU would have required other things throughout the game to go correctly, but they were moments that derailed any momentum the Gators had in those games.

But what is true of all four of those moments is that coaching errors were the main culprit and not something a more talented roster is going to fix.

Offseason Moves

The concern is that for all the offseason moves made by Napier, these four moments were not genuinely addressed.

The Utah moment was due to shear disorganization of special teams. Napier would claim he addressed this by hiring Joe Houston in the offseason, but Houston is still an analyst like Chris Couch and during the spring game the Gators still had issues counting to 11.

Now, perhaps Houston can double-check the rosters to make sure the numbers align, but the Arkansas moment happened because, in the words of Napier after the game, "A player heard a word." Again, if Houston and Couch are analysts, who is in charge of this unit during a crunch-time situation since Napier is busy calling plays?

One could argue the Missouri moment is on the players, and linebacker Mannie Nunnery stopped about seven yards short of where he needed to be. But we have argued here at Hail Florida Hail that it seemed like a poor choice to have your backup linebacker drop 20 yards into coverage, where he would be matched up with one of the top wide receivers in the SEC. In addition, Jordan Castell was 30 yards off the ball and was no help. If we had to guess, he was told not to allow anyone behind him, no matter what.

Napier would say he addressed this by hiring Ron Roberts to work alongside Austin Armstrong. But this is the same Ron Roberts who gave up 4th and 31 to Alabama after he opted only to rush three and drop eight, giving Jalen Milroe six seconds with zero pressure in his face to pick out an open receiver in the endzone.

And then there is the doomed double reverse flea flicker against FSU. Something we have also pointed out on this site is that the design of the play was in complete contrast to how everyone else in the country runs it. When Brown caught the ball, he was supposed to throw to Wilson to his left, which would cause him to throw across his body. Everyone else who runs it with a right-handed quarterback has the play go to a streaking TE on the right side.

Who designed the play and opted to call it in that moment?

Billy Napier.

Who is the offensive coordinator for 2024?

Billy Napier.

Scott Frost

All of this may come across as nitpicking at a time when hope is starting to build in Gainesville. Vegas doesn't have much faith in the Gators, with most odds pegging Florida for five wins, but as we have chronicled on the site, more and more pundits are starting to come around to the idea that Florida is going to surprise people this season.

And in truth if the offensive line holds up and the tackling improves like we think it will, 8-4 isn't an insane prediction to make

If Florida loses a game here or there in the manner they lost games last season you can chalk it up to bad luck.

But if you string too many of those moments together you become Scott Frost during his time at Nebraska.

Napier has to prove in these crunch-time moments that these errors caused by the coaching staff have been fixed, or he will lose his job, whether it is this season or sometime down the road.