Chomp: Napier says Gators looking forward to challenge of playing ‘formidable opponent’ in Utah

Utah versus Florida

This story first appeared in Chomp, our Gators football newsletter. Subscribe here.

It’s here: Game week.

Florida football officially returns this week, with only five more days until the first Gators game of the season.

Who else is ready?!

🐊 Gators excited about game week

Coach Billy Napier held a news conference Monday ahead of the season opener against No. 7 Utah.

He said the Gators are excited — and ready to play.

“We’ve got a formidable opponent this week. We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Utah and the brand of football that they play on offense, defense and special teams. Very fundamentally sound group. They play with effort. They’re tough. They’ve been a very consistent performer in the Pac-12 and certainly admire the program that coach [Kyle] Whittingham has built there,” Napier said. “Our team looks forward to the challenge and the opportunity.”

Utah brings a very physical brand of football that loves to use the tight end position in the passing game, so the Gators linebackers will have to play well in run and pass — a lot of responsibility for that group.

Napier admitted that the unranked Gators have a lot of work to do but said that they’ll have a couple of days to implement their routine.

“I think it’s really important for our players this week to focus on the things that are going to help them play well in the game. I think preparation is the key to confidence. We’ve worked here to kind of inform our players that life’s not designed to give you what you want or what you need. Life’s designed to give you what you deserve,” Napier said.

“I think it’s very important that we have the self-discipline in our approach this week in terms of how we prepare. Our staff has done a good job of setting up a structure and a routine for the players. It’s their job to follow through, and I’m a firm believer that that detailed preparation will allow them to be well-prepared and play with confidence, and that’s our job as a staff.”

Napier was asked about his approach to play calling on game day, and while he didn’t want to go into too many details publicly, he did outline the process that they go through to get ready for that.

“I think that a lot of work is done during the week, but I think, as you approach the game, we do a number of different things. I think the quarterback is involved in some of that. I’ve learned that that guy’s confidence and comfort level with certain things is important. Him anticipating that we’re on the same page relative to down and distance and field zone and the clock,” he said. “I think that’s an important piece is the quarterback and the play caller being on the same page. I think that’s the benefit for me is I’m in the room with that guy in a game week. We spend a lot of time together.”

As for the quarterback, Napier said he is pleased with sophomore Anthony Richardson’s “attitude and approach.”

“I think he’s really worked hard to have a better comprehension of the system, a lot of reps. If you think about off-season program, you think about spring practice, his attitude and approach. Now we get to zero the focus on a specific plan. Spring ball and training camp, the number of variables is way up there. You’ve got a lot of install on both sides, offense and defense. So this kind of narrows the focus,” Napier said. “It’s good to see him buying into the routine in terms of the way we approach it with the quarterback. You know, he’s got a punch list of things he needs to do each day starting yesterday, and it requires some self-discipline. It’s not easy.

“But I think he loves the game, and I think he’s bought into this. The preparation ultimately is going to give you the confidence so you can go play fast and make good decisions and put the team in a position to win.”

There’s a lot on the line in Napier’s first game leading the Gators.

Currently, Florida owns the longest-active home-opener win streak in the FBS with 32-straight wins (the last one coming in 1989 when the Gators lost 24-19 to Ole Miss), losing just one season opener (a 33-17 loss to Michigan in 2017 in Arlington, Texas) since 1990.

Florida has only ever played two games against a ranked opponent in The Swamp to open the season — and won both. (“Only Gators get out alive.”) Unranked Florida defeated No. 7 Houston 59-34 in the 1969 opener, while the 16th-ranked Gators took down No. 15 Miami 17-14 in the opener of the 1982 season.

“I think it’s healthy,” Napier said of his team starting the season with a matchup against a top-10 team. “I think it gives you a little bit of an edge when there is respect there. You like to think that each team performs independent of the opponent. I think there is — and we’d like to get to a place around here where our preparation is really the same independent of where we play and who we play. It makes sense. It’s just a different set of variables. But I do think we all have some human nature in us, and I think it’s healthy for our players and the entire staff that we play a team that’s well regarded out there, that has significant success in the past and brings back a lot of really good players.

“This is a heck of a football team. There’s a reason why they’re a top 10 ranked team and won their conference championship. If you think about it, the few losses they had were independent before the quarterback change, so this is really an accomplished group with a lot of veteran players coming in here Saturday.”

And when it comes to Saturday being his first game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Napier promised that “there will be plenty of time to soak that in.”

“It’s part of the reason you take the job, right? Is for those special experiences in that place,” he said. “So we look forward to that.”

Saturday’s kickoff is a 7 p.m., and the game will be on ESPN.

According to FanDuel Sports, the Gators are a 2.5-point underdog against the Utes. It’s the first time Florida has been an underdog in a home opener.

🍂 Several young, inexperienced Gators emerge in fall camp

It’s no secret the Gators don’t have a ton of proven depth on this year’s squad, but Napier may have found a few during fall camp who will contribute and may even push for starting roles.

In a different Gators Breakdown episode, David dives into some freshmen and redshirt freshmen who will contribute in Napier’s first season.

🏟️ Stricklin says Dawgs seem committed to keeping Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said Georgia “seems committed” on continuing the Bulldogs’ annual rivalry game with the Gators in Jacksonville past its current contract.

“My counterpart at the University of Georgia (athletic director Josh Brooks) seems committed to keeping the game in Jacksonville based on our conversations,” Stricklin said in an Orlando Sentinel article. “Because of the tradition and the fact that the schools benefit financially from having the game in Jacksonville, I would be surprised if it ever moved.”

A Georgia spokesperson told DawgNation nothing has changed in that regard, despite Stricklin’s claim.

FULL STORY: Florida AD says Georgia ‘seems committed’ to keeping rivalry game in Jacksonville

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has stated many times in his tenure that he feels Georgia should host the Gators in Athens for its designated home games, as it would be the most valuable recruiting weekend for the program.

The current contract for the rivalry game expires after the 2023 game. The contract has a two-year option for the city to host the game in 2024 and 2025.

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About the Author:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.