The Florida Gators finished the regular season holding six wins and six losses. There was some good, some bad, and plenty of ugly throughout Billy Napier’s first year at Florida.
Gator Country provides our postseason roundtable as we breakdown the Gators’ 2022 season.
What are your major takeaways from Florida‘s offense this season? What were the strengths and where do you need to see improvement?
AS: My biggest takeaway was just how much more aggressive the Gators’ offensive line was compared to the last few years. The offensive line was consistently getting to the second level which allowed for some big runs.
The biggest improvement has to be a consistent passing game, this year the passing game was hit or miss every week and that allowed opponents to stack the boss.
NM: The ground and pound approach was Florida’s bread and butter on offense in 2022. The Gators’ offensive line was one of the best in the country and led the way for Florida to average 213 rushing yards a game while averaging 5.8 yards per carry, which ranks 3rd in the FBS. Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne will be one of the best duos in all of college football next season.
Another quick takeaway was that Florida’s best offensive weapons were transfers or freshmen (Montrell Johnson, Trevor Etienne, Ricky Pearsall, O’Cyrus Torrence).
I need to see improvement in the passing game and in the two / four-minute drills. Florida had plenty of chances to put more puts up after halftime but stalled with just a few minutes left on the clock. This was largely due to Napier having to shy away from the running game and lean on an inconsistent passing attack. A more consistent QB will help in this area.
GH: I’ll start out with the good stuff. Florida’s running game this season was arguably the best it’s been in a very long time and the biggest strength of this offense this season. I think all the improvements needed on offense start at the quarterback position. Anthony Richardson was very up and down throughout the year and had some games where he made terrible decisions that held this offense back at times.
What are your major takeaways from Florida’s defense this season? What were the strengths and where do you need to see improvement?
AS: This team has got to learn how to set an edge on the line and tackle. The tackling this last two years has been extremely bad and cost this team a lot.
As far as the strength goes, the defense did a good job creating turnovers and that helped the struggles to some degree.
NM: I’m not exactly sure where to start with the defense. Florida needs to improve in every facet on defense. Coverage, pressure, tackling, and run defense are all areas that need to take steps forward next season. Perhaps the biggest takeaway was Florida’s inability to get off the field in 2022, ranking 127th in the FBS on third downs this season. That needs to be improved next season. The Gators were T-9th in the FBS in turnovers gained with 24, which is a huge improvement from last season.
GH: I thought the defense was almost as bad, if not worse, than it was last season. The tackling was probably the worst I’ve seen in my years of watching Florida football. While they did bring pressure some games, it was very rare that you saw the defensive line bring consistent pressure this season. Third down defense is the biggest concern on defense right now, as Florida was the worst third down defense in the country for most of the season. Improvement in pass converge, tackling and getting off the field needs to be the focus for this defense this off-season.
How do you suggest Florida improves their special teams unit during the off-season?
AS: This is the biggest concern for me as special teams is something you either have or you don’t. I know Napier is evaluating things and maybe a change of analyst could help but this team has got to take special teams serious.
NM: I’m a proponent of having a special teams coordinator, however, I do not expect Napier to go this route. I’m not sure I’m willing to give up the 2nd offensive line coach in order to do so either, at least not yet. Napier believes his plan is going to work, so we just have to wait and see. Louisiana struggled mightily on special teams under Billy Napier in his first year, but gradually improved every year after. I do believe that more talent in the building will help with special teams play. Trevor Etienne showed us flashes and sparks of greatness in the return game at the end of the year. I’m on the wait and see phase right now with special teams. If we don’t see improvement next year, somehow has to take control and ownership of the unit.
GH: I think it’s just a lack of focus and discipline to be honest. In my opinion I think Smack should be kicking field goals and should’ve gotten an opportunity this year. Mihalek looks like he’s aiming every time he kicks a football. I think if the focus and discipline level can take a step up in that room, you won’t see players try and catch the ball with their hands during punts like Jason Marshall did anymore.
How would you grade Billy Napier and Patrick Toney’s play calling this season? What were their strengths and weaknesses?
AS: I know everyone is critical of both of their play calling but for me this year is a wash as they did not have the players to run their scheme the way they wanted too. Toney wasn’t able to play aggressive because of the lack of depth and the lack of playmakers on defense. I believe that improves next year as Toney is one of the smartest minds in football.
Napier called a lot of good games this year but it’s tough to call a game when you design plays and have the guys running wide open but the play isn’t executed. Napier like Toney needs playmakers.
NM: It’s extremely hard for me to call for someone’s job in the first year of the program, especially when lack of execution was a large reason for the team’s downfall.
I think Napier called good enough games to win most of the matchups this season. Napier struggled in two and four minute drills, but I don’t think it was entirely his fault. Richardson is not the QB you want for a two-minute offense. His 55% completion rate and inconsistency passing the football makes it hard to move the football without running out of time. I could go into all the statistics, but you’ve heard them from me a thousand times. I’d like to see a running back screen in the game scripts next season as I think Trevor Etienne would thrive in that play call.
I thought Toney got better as the season went on. Players were being put in positions to succeed for the most part, Florida was just outmatched. Tackling, containment of the QB, and 3rd downs were the biggest weaknesses. I expect those to improve with better players on the field.
GH: This is something that seems to be the biggest topic of discussion from fans. In my honest opinion, I see both sides of the argument. It’s hard to call plays when your players aren’t executing, and I think that gets easier for Napier over time as he gets his players. Although there were many times this season where Billy Napier and this offense tried to force a pass game that just wasn’t working, the Florida State game is a perfect example. Billy Napier will have to adapt as head coach if wants to continue to be the play caller at Florida, which I think he will. The only way Napier gets an OC is if calling plays himself just doesn’t seem to work three years down the road, and I think he’ll get it figured out before then. As for Toney, he needs his players. Toney has been forced to play a different style of defense than he’s used to playing because of the lack of execution on defense.
Do you want to see any staff changes in the off-season?
AS: I do not, I believe this is a really good coaching staff and with time and their own guys they will succeed.
NM: Once again, I think it’s hard to judge the coaching staff off one year. I don’t expect Florida to make any changes to the coaching staff and I don’t want to see any coaching turnover this early; I don’t think that’s healthy for the program.
GH: Not necessarily, although it wouldn’t hurt if the Gators made some changes, I don’t think it’s quite needed anywhere just yet. You could argue that maybe Florida brings in another good recruiter and puts him at a random position and does some shifting, but I don’t see any significant changes happening yet.
What positions do you see Florida targeting in the transfer portal?
AS: Offensive line, tight end, linebacker and defensive tackle are the four main spots for me. You always need linemen and the Gators need a playmaker at tight end. At linebacker, depth is a huge concern and they need someone to be able to start opposite of Shemar James.
NM: Tight end and linebacker are the two most important positions to address in the offseason. Amari Burney and Ventrell Miller are out the door, leaving a huge hole in the defense. Florida’s tight end room severely lacks talent. I expect Florida to take multiple at those two spots. After that it’s receiver and defensive line. I’m comfortable with the receiving room if Ricky Pearsall returns, but a starting transfer receiver would solidify a promising unit entering the 2023 season. Florida needs more talent at defensive line to bridge the gap for the freshman class.
GH: Besides assuming Anthony Richardson heads for the NFL draft, I think linebacker needs to be the biggest portal target for this staff entering the off-season. Linebacker depth doesn’t look good right now and bringing in some players that Florida missed out on in the recruiting trail years ago would be amazing for this team.
What do the Florida Gators need to do during the off-season to take a big step forward in 2023?
AS: The portal IMO will be the difference for the Gators, if Napier is able to land some playmakers in the portal then the Gators will take the steps needed to compete in 2023.
NM: The Gators need to hit the transfer portal and polish off a good recruiting class. Spring ball will be very important for the Gators as Napier gets a chance to evaluate many of the early enrollees Florida will have on campus.
GH: They need to do the little things, as the little things are what win championships. Depending on if Anthony Richardson stays at Florida or leaves for the draft, quarterback play and decision making at that position will need to take a big step up next season. You could argue Richardson could have 10 more rushing touchdowns added to his resume if he decided to keep the ball in many games this season. On defense, I think it’ll get better as the years go on and Patrick Toney gets his players. Execution in practice will be the biggest thing this team needs to work on this off-season.