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Of course, any loss is disappointing — especially one to an in-state foe who wants to capitalize on your down season.
But it’s not like Florida’s 29-17 loss to Central Florida (9-4) in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa was surprising.
“We beat ‘em handily,” said UCF coach Gus Malzahn.
There was a crowd of 63,669 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium — a Gasparilla Bowl record. But like multiple games this season, it did not appear like the Gators wanted to be there.
Quarterback Emory Jones looked like he had much of the season in what’s expected to be his final game with the Gators. He completed 14 of 36 passes for 171 yards and ran for 62 yards on 10 carries.
“Not thinking about my future right now. Will talk to my Mom and family and then will make a decision,” Jones said after the game when asked about his announced plans to enter the transfer portal.
Let me say this: Kudos to Jones for sticking around for the bowl game and showing much class and professionalism as he went through a tumultuous season with the firing of Dan Mullen, who recruited him, and a position battle with Anthony Richardson, who underwent a procedure on his right knee and didn’t play in the bowl game.
The offense’s up-and-down performance on Thursday wasn’t the only problem. There were also some disciplinary issues. The Gators had eight penalties for 85 yards. Florida linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper was having a strong performance until he was ejected in the third quarter after what the Pac-12 referees determined was a thrown punch. And after the game ended, the teams were involved in a scrum that featured pushing and shoving near midfield.
The Gators finished the season with a 6-7 record — their first losing record since 2017.
“The guys that are here will have a better year next year,” said running back Malik Davis, who had seven carries for 86 yards and a touchdown in the bowl game.
Florida was led by interim coach Greg Knox, and now this is Billy Napier’s football program. While he did not coach, he did attend the game and spoke with reporter Taylor Davis during the broadcast on ESPN.
“It’s humbling, right? Being the head football coach at the University of Florida, it’s a special opportunity, right? It’s a great opportunity to lead. We’ve got an incredible challenge in front of us, but we’re excited about it,” Napier said. “I think we’re going to focus on the things that we can control. It’s going to be a team effort thing, think we’ve got to work together, right? We’ve got an incredible history, a great alumni base and a talented team, so we got to pull the rope in the right direction, and we’ll have success.”
In the latest episode of Gators Breakdown, host David Waters and Will Miles give reactions to the loss and officially turn the page to the Napier era.
Shorter ‘on his way to a full recovery’
The scene late in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game was one you never want to see.
Wide receiver Justin Shorter was carted off the field after a hard hit.
The next day, the Gators released this hopeful update from Shorter’s family:
“We are happy to share that Justin is doing well, is clear to head home today and is on his way to a full recovery! We would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of prayers, love and endless support - he is going to be fine! Special thanks to everyone on the UF athletic staff and St. Joseph’s Hospital for their professionalism, care and support they have shown Justin and our family. Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday and a blessed 2022! Go Gators!”
Since then, Shorter announced on social media he will be returning to Florida for the 2022 season.
🐊 Miller to return for 2022 season
Shorter isn’t the only Gator who’s announced his plans for next year.
Linebacker Ventrell Miller announced he will return for the 2022 season, as well.
“Life is full of tough decisions. However my mind is made up. I’m Excited to announce that I will be entering the New Years as a Florida Gator! Merry Christmas. #LastRide #gogators🐊,” he said in an Instagram post.
Miller had surgery early on in the season to repair a torn biceps tendon.
🏈 More football hires announced
Meanwhile, Napier continues to add to his staff.
Most recently, the Gators welcomed Frank Ogas as an assistant for player development.
He spent the last four seasons at Louisiana, making him one of several hires who coached the Ragin’ Cajuns under Napier.
Napier also announced that Marcus Castro-Walker will serve on his staff as director of player engagement and NIL.
Castro-Walker spent the 2021 season at Nebraska as the program’s director of player development. In his role, Castro-Walker developed, implemented and monitored an effective student mentoring program for Husker football student-athletes. Prior to Nebraska, Castro-Walker spent four years as the director of college personnel at Arizona State. Previously, he also worked in a similar role at the University of Central Florida.
And William Peagler will join Napier’s staff as a tight ends coach.
He spent the last two seasons as Michigan State’s running backs coach. He spent the 2018 season as Louisiana’s director of player personnel and quality control coordinator. He also spent the 2011 to 2013 seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns. In 2017, Peagler served as a graduate assistant at Georgia. Prior to that, he was an assistant in quality control for the offense at Minnesota in 2016.
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