Chomp: Napier, Gators display aggressive approach in Tennessee loss

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 24: Anthony Richardson #15 of the Florida Gators looks to throw the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won the game 38-33. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images) (Getty Images 2022)

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Welp, Gators fans.

It was close.

👀 Gators show something different against Vols

They made it a game, but in the end, Florida fell short, losing 38-33 to Tennessee in Knoxville.

In the Gators’ first road game of the season, quarterback Anthony Richardson thrived in the raucus environment of Neyland Stadium, looking more like the AR we saw against Utah rather than the one we saw lose to Kentucky and struggle against South Florida. He had a career-high 453 passing yards and two touchdowns and ran for 62 and two scores. It was if he seemingly had less pressure away from his hometown of Gainesville, as his quarterback trainer, Denny Thompson of 6 Points and 1010XL hinted in his podcast prior to the game with fellow host Ryan “The Hacker” Green might be the case.

Really, his only big mistake in the SEC East matchup was the fumble in the fourth quarter. But there is some concern, as it was reported during the “SEC on CBS” broadcast that he may have been hurt on that play.

GAME RECAP: Florida’s comeback attempt falls short in 38-33 loss at Tennessee

But perhaps the member of the Gators squad who shocked the most on Saturday afternoon was the head coach himself, Billy Napier. Napier, who has been mostly reserved in news conferences and on the sidelines, showed a fiery side that Gator Nation had not seen before, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“I lost my poise. I didn’t represent our team. I didn’t represent the University of Florida the right way. I need to do better. I apologize for that,” he said after the game.

He also held strong to his “scared money don’t make money” motto. He was aggressive and wasn’t afraid to go for it on fourth down, with the Gators going 5 of 6.

“I think it was required given the matchups and dynamics in the game. For the most part it paid off,” Napier said, per Swamp 247.

“Our game plan was to keep the ball out of their hands,” said Richardson of Napier’s fourth down approach, per Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

But some of his calls were questionable at best, especially going for the two point conversion after a touchdown with just over 4 minutes left in the game. I’m still struggling to understand why he made that decision, which came back to bite the Gators (2-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference). Had the Gators kicked the extra point and made it, it would have made it a 10-point game. Instead, the Gators failed to convert, leaving them down 11. Napier called for his team to go for 2 again after its second touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Gators failed to convert that time as well.

The Gators came through with their second onside kick, this one successfully grabbed by linebacker Diwun Black for a chance for Florida to win the game. If they hadn’t gone for the 2-point conversion and just gotten the extra point after each touchdown in the fourth quarter, they only would have needed a field goal to tie the game. But you never know what will happen in overtime, and good for the Gators for fighting and not giving up when the Volunteers thought the game was over.

The only explanation as for why Napier went for 2 came from News4JAX sports analyst Frank Frangie, who’s also the voice of the Jacksonville Jaguars and a host on 1010XL. He tweeted out his opinion on Napier going for 2, saying, “For it to matter, had to score another TD. Analytics guys say when have score twice, winning odds better going for 2.” On3′s Gators Online shared a chart “that many coaches who are into analytics will use when deciding whether to go for a two-point conversion or kick the extra point.”

While you could also point to Napier’s decision to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal in the Gators’ first possession of the game (they won the toss and elected to receive), I had less of an issue with that call at the time. It’s definitely easier to criticize after the fact.

The Florida offense was able to do what in needed to do to defeat Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) by controlling the time of possession 34:57 to the Vols’ 25:03. But even with the return of linebacker Ventrell Miller, who missed one game due to a lower body injury, the Florida defense, including one safety who you all know I’m referring to, just couldn’t stop quarterback Hendon Hooker’s explosive plays and up-tempo offense of this Tennessee team led by coach Josh Heupel. Despite not having star wide receiver Cedric Tillman, who was out with a left leg injury and suffering an upper body injury in the second quarter, Hooker threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 112 yards and a score. It also doesn’t help that the Volunteers got away with so many holds...

“We’re pretty good. We’re not hanging our heads,” Richardson said, per Edgar Thompson. “We got to keep grinding.”

This was Tennessee’s second win over Florida in the last 18 meetings and snapped a six-game losing streak in the series. The win gave the Volunteers their first 4-0 start since 2016. The loss gave the Gators their first 0-2 start in SEC play since 1986, Edgar Thompson reports.

In the latest episode of Gators Breakdown, host David Waters breaks down the loss, Richardson’s valiant performance and just how bad the defense played.

Following the loss, Florida dropped out of both the AP Top 25 college football poll and the USA Today Sports AFCA football coaches poll, from No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

🧁 Cupcake coming up?

I hesitate to say cupcake, as Florida’s season so far and the end of last season have been nothing but nail-biters, but the Gators should have a get-right game this week ahead of the meat of their SEC schedule.

After playing three ranked teams in the first four weeks of the season, the Gators get a break by hosting Eastern Washington (1-2) on Saturday.

Eastern Washington’s only comparable matchup this season was against now-No. 11 Oregon in Eugene. The Eagles lost 70-14 in Eugene. And remember, the Ducks lost 49-3 to now-No. 1 Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 1.

Saturday’s game kicks off at noon. If you aren’t going to Gainesville, you can watch it on SEC Network+.

And it’s worth keeping an eye on the tropics, with Hurricane Ian expected to impact Florida this week. Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin tweeted Monday morning that the University Athletic Association is monitoring the storm.

“Currently, Saturday’s football game between UF-Eastern Washington is scheduled as planned. The UAA is working with campus, local & state officials to closely monitor Hurricane Ian and its potential impact on Gainesville and the surrounding communities,” he said.

🕛 Kickoff scheduled for Florida-Missouri

When Florida hosts Missouri on Oct. 8, the game will kick off at noon, the SEC announced.

The game will air on ESPNU.

Florida last hosted Missouri in 2020 and defeated the Tigers 41-17. Last year, the Gators lost 24-23 in OT against the Tigers in Columbia. The Gators own the all-time record at home 3-2, while the Tigers have a 6-5 advantage in the overall series.

🗓️ 2023 football schedule released

The Gators football teams’ 2023 schedule was released last week.

They kick off next season by traveling to Salt Like City for the first time in program history to face Utah on Sept. 2. They will host six games in The Swamp with the home opener on Sept. 9 against McNeese State, followed by its SEC opener against Tennessee on Sept. 16 in Gainesville.

In addition to a trip to LSU in November, the Gators will host Arkansas out of the SEC West. And of course, there will be the annual out-of-conference rivalry matchup against Florida State.

Here is the full 2023 schedule:

  • Sept. 2 - Utah (Salt Lake City)
  • Sept. 9 - McNeese State (Gainesville)
  • Sept. 16 - Tennessee (Gainesville)
  • Sept. 23 - Charlotte (Gainesville)
  • Sept. 30 - Kentucky (Lexington)
  • Oct. 7 - Vanderbilt (Gainesville)
  • Oct. 14 - South Carolina (Columbia)
  • Oct. 21 - BYE
  • Oct. 28 - Georgia (Jacksonville)
  • Nov. 11 - LSU (Baton Rouge)
  • Nov. 18 - Missouri (Columbia)
  • Nov. 25 - Florida State (Gainesville)

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