After all the ups and downs to start the season, Billy Napier and the Florida Gators are sitting at 2-1 ahead of their week four matchup with Tennessee. The Gators open up as 10-point underdogs in what could be their toughest task yet.
Everything is different about this game in Knoxville, and that might just be a good thing. The game will kick off around 3:30, not the 7 or 7:30 start the Gators are accustomed to seeing.
“Friday evening will look a little bit different, and certainly Saturday morning will look a little bit different. But outside of that, we’ll keep everything intact,” Napier said. “In terms of our expectations and how we do things, travel-wise, schedule-wise, it will be the first time with the group. So there will be some things that go with that.”
“I do think our players are starting to understand what it looks like relative to preparing with this staff,” Napier said.
The Gators will need to create a travel roster of just 70 players for their first road game of the season.
“It is tough,” Napier said. “You’ve got to get down to 70. We’re limited to 80 at home games. You get a chance to play 70 on the road there.”
Napier doesn’t seem too concerned about creating the roster for this year’s team.
“I think where we’re at probably not as big of a deal,” Napier said. “Down the road, you get into year two, three, four and you’ve got a little bit deeper team, that’s when it becomes a challenge.”
Not only does the time of the game and the roster look different, but the crowd will as well. There’s going to be plenty of orange in Neyland Stadium, but they won’t be cheering for the Florida Gators. With the stadium capacity at 102,455 and a scheduled sellout on Saturday afternoon, the Gators will need to be prepared for a hostile environment.
“We do a ton of work, training camp in particular, we do a number of things with crowd noise,” Napier said. “So we get out in front of that, anticipate that, knowing that that’s coming, and it’s not going away, right? We’re going to have to deal with it the rest of the way.”
Napier has experience coaching in Knoxville from his days at Alabama. However, not many players have the full experience of the Neyland crowd. The last time the Gators played in Knoxville was in 2020. The limitations on attendance due to Covid created an atmosphere that won’t be similar to the one they see this Saturday.
Trey Dean, David Reese, Ventrell Miller, and Richard Gouraige are the only active players that have seen a full crowd in Knoxville. The Gators will need to lean on these players for guidance leading up to the game.
“I think the veteran players on our team, I think will be comfortable with that,” Napier said. “I was just having conversations yesterday with some of the guys that have played here, obviously have played here in the past in those times at Alabama. I think we understand what comes with that.”
Everything I previously mentioned may or may not be a factor in Saturday’s game. What’s truly going to determine the outcome of the game is Anthony Richardson’s play.
“I think that we need to improve in the throw game, and that’s one of the points of emphasis with the offensive players yesterday is precision in the throw game,” Napier said. “I think settling into some lineups. Obviously figuring out what we do well, what can we do well, what’s the quarterback comfortable with, all those things that go into that.”
Napier believes the offense as a whole needs to improve, not just Richardson.
“When I say that, I’m talking about protection. I’m talking about detail and the steps and depths of the route, the aiming points, and the quarterback progression and decision-making,” Napier said.” So all 11 players contribute, and I think we need to be more precise and more detailed in that part of our football team.”
Napier thinks Richardson needs to overemphasize the communication with his offense this week.
“Just focusing on the things that he can control,” Napier said. “I know that sounds cliche, but I think the prep throughout the week and then just being a great communicator, verbal and non-verbal. You’ve got to do a good job overemphasizing the communication piece, not only to the core of the offense but the perimeter as well, and realize it’s the same game.”
Richardson already has a head start on communicating with his offense.
“Talking to the receivers, they’re wondering like what they can do to help me get them the ball, get them some touchdowns,” Richardson said. “So just communicating with those guys and trying to understand what they’re seeing and trying to let them know what I see is going to help us.”
Richardson said he’s trying a new philosophy with his receivers this week.
“We’re going to start doing something new this week, watching film together and just trying to understand what can help us in different coverages and stuff like that,” Richardson said. “So we’re going to try a new philosophy this week and see how it goes.”
A different start time, a different roster, and a different atmosphere could have an effect on the game. However, a different Anthony Richardson is what Gator fans want to see.