Instant Analysis: Brutal start to Napier’s second season

Utah 24 - Florida 11

by Zack Weiss

A new quarterback, a new and (supposedly) improved defense, year two of the Billy Napier culture, and a whole lot of hype. All of that, combined with Utah’s star quarterback Cam Rising being ruled out as he continues recovering a torn ACL from last season’s Rose Bowl, left Florida and its fans hopeful — if not outright excited — entering Salt Lake City Thursday evening. But the hostile environment proved its formidability as a stagnant offense, slow defense and bevy of penalties formulated a 24-11 Gators loss.

Inside the GatorsInstant Analysis takes a quick look at how the game unfolded.

IT WAS OVER WHEN: Florida failed to convert on 4th down with just over 1:43 left, down 24-11. Utah’s 5th sack of the night on 3rd & 8 the play beforehand set this up, which perfectly encapsulates two trends of this game — both of which write much of the script as to how things turned out: the Gators’ inability to convert on third down and Florida’s offensive line issues protecting Graham Mertz. We’ll dive deeper into both further along in this analysis.

THEY STOLE THE SHOW: Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes has been preparing for this moment since Rising’s injury back in January. Despite not being certain whether he’d be the starter all the way up until game day, Barnes prepared as though he would be. And it showed. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound junior stepped in with poise and — while he’s no Cameron Rising — he gave the Utes exactly what they needed. He didn’t take the game over, but he ran the show for the winning team. And, to me, with the stakes and hype where they were, his situation having been what it was, to step in and not turn the ball over, to complete 67% of your throws in route to a two-score victory, he earned whatever praise he receives. He went 12-of-18 for 167 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers. He also rushed for a touchdown himself.

THESE STATS DON’T LIE: The Gators converted 1-of-13 third downs. Not an extensive stat, nor a fun one. But all that needs to be said. You’re just not going to win games where you convert 7% of your third downs. Especially not when you score one offensive touchdown and rush for less than 13 yards. You have got to figure out a way to move the sticks consistently and extend series’ going forward if you’re Billy Napier and Co.

THIS MATCHUP PROVED KEY: The Battle in the Trenches

Pretty simple concept here: You consistently lose the battle at the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball, you’re unlikely to win the ball game. And all night long, Utah dominated the trenches. Florida’s run game, which is supposed to be their biggest strength, was almost unrecognizable. Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne combined for just 31 yards on 10 carries. And when they weren’t getting penalized for false starts, the Florida offensive line wasn’t doing Graham Mertz any favors. Utah won the sack battle 5-0.

WHAT A PLAY: With just over 12 minutes in the third quarter, Utah’s Sione Vaki — the 6-foot, 208-pound sophomore safety — was the recipient of a tipped Graham Mertz pass and earned his first career interception. At this point, Florida was down 17-3 and had a third down within their own ten-yard line; so, essentially a worst-case scenario to throw a pick. The Utes would go on to capitalize off the turnover and go up 24-3. Which, with how things turned out, was a crucial play in deciding this game.

UP NEXT: Florida (0-1, 0-0) will play their home opener next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. vs. McNeese St., looking to get in the win column for the first time under year two of Billy Napier and improve to .500.

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  1. Mark, it was a bad game but your opening premise is completely off the mark. "Whole lot of hype" is wrong. There's been no hype, no expectation at all. Excitement? I haven't seen that.
  2. Mark, it was a bad game but your opening premise is completely off the mark. "Whole lot of hype" is wrong. There's been no hype, no expectation at all. Excitement? I haven't seen that.
    I think there was hype inside the building. There have been stories that Napier thinks he has a strong team.
  3. I agree it was a frustrating game to watch, but there were also some positives.
    I haven't seen the stats on missed tackles, but it seemed for the most part the tackling on defense was better this game compared to the last couple of years.
    Mertz also did not look too bad.
    The poor performance of the offensive line also shows how valuable O'Cyrus Torrence was last year.
    Their problems started last year in the bowl game when Torrence sat out.
    Florida could not run the ball nor protect the QB in that game either.
    Two things need to improve - the play of the O-line and the discipline.
    The number of penalties so far under Napier has been curious since he has said from the beginning that that was one of his main objectives for the team - cut down on penalties.

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