Watch & Read: Pretty clean day for the most part

Press Conference

by Inside the Gators Staff
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BILLY NAPIER: We really appreciate our fans showing up tonight, home opener. We had about 88,000 in there for an FCS opponent. Look, they make a difference. They make a difference. The energy that they create for our players and certainly the difficulty for the opponent, it’s special.

We talked to the players throughout the week about it’s sacred to compete in the Swamp. We only get so many opportunities. So independent of the opponent, it’s just a special experience for our guys. They work hard the entire year for these opportunities, and I thought we had the right mindset early, both sides of the ball, and for the most part did what we should do, truth be known, and ultimately as a coach — we had a miscue early with the snap and then we fumbled the ball late.

Outside of that, pretty clean day for the most part.

We did some things that were significant statistically, but it really wasn’t about that. I told the players in the locker room just now, I appreciate the response that we saw from the players after last week, which was obviously disappointing, but I think the leadership on the team, we said it was going to be about the mindset, the effort, the attitude, and I think we had the right things early.

We’ll enjoy tonight, and when we wake up tomorrow we’ll get ready for the big one next week.

Q. You touched on some of the positives, but just getting a win maybe after a four-game losing streak, getting back in the Swamp and getting back to the winning ways?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah. I mean, there’s something to be said for that, I agree. Just relative to the emotion that comes with it, right.

Again, I want to compliment the players. I think that they handled that well.

One of the things about college football and I would say the University in Florida in particular is it gets noisy sometimes, good and bad. If it’s bad, then it gets loud, and if it’s good, it gets loud.

I think the ability to stay consistent in your approach and evaluate things objectively is important, not only for myself and our staff but I think also for the players, and I think we’ve got some maturity in that locker room that helped do that.

Look, there’s challenges ahead here, but I do think that what you’re saying is true.

Let me say one thing that I think is really important for games like this. Some of the guys that we observe work hard every week that don’t get to play most weeks. We’ve got a lot of guys that do a lot behind the scenes that make our team better, and to see some of those guys have an opportunity to go between the lines and play, I think that’s really special.

It not only means something to those individual players and for us as a staff, it’s one of the more gratifying things about coaching, but to see veteran players excited for those individuals I think was a positive.

Q. 327 yards rushing, building confidence and maybe even playing to your identity, how big were those?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, no, I think just efficiency. It’s always fun when the plays work. It’s always a lot more fun when the plays work.

But I think we had a hat for a hat. I think that we made the right decisions at quarterback, and ultimately the staff did a good job putting the plan together, and we went and executed that plan for the most part on all parts of our team.

That’s what you want when you play an opponent like this, and certainly as a coach you’d like to say they’re all the same, but we know that’s not true. There’s a human nature element, and for them to show up and compete was a positive.

Q. What kind of tone do you think the first drive set, and Montrell in particular, getting him involved because he wasn’t quite as involved in the Utah game?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think just staying on schedule, creating favorable down and distances. I think 3rd down was manageable for the most part all night, and really the one 3rd-and-long that we did have, we converted. That’s where you’re essentially playing with odds on your side, and ultimately that’s where you want to live as a play caller.

If you’re a defensive play caller you want to live on the other end of the spectrum. We certainly did that tonight.

I think that’s the best defensive performance in how many years?

Q. 86 games.

BILLY NAPIER: 86 games or something like that. Look, every time I turn around out there I see a freshman running around. Defense was ready to play, and I think we’ll continue to get better.

We’ve got a lot of young players out there playing, and I think those guys will get a little bit better, not only at game day but their routine during the week I think will be beneficial.

Q. How important was it after last week to play a very clean game? Penalties at a minimum, mental mistakes at a minimum.

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think it was a point of emphasis. Reality is as a coach and really as a competitor, and each individual player that plays in the game, you can live with some things. Guy beats you, you run into a really good player, maybe he wins a match-up, but ultimately the things that have nothing to do with the opponent are the ones that keep you up at night. Certainly, we had too many of those last week. To come back and play cleaner I think was a positive.

But we all understand we have to continue to improve, to evolve, and bigger challenges are coming.

Q. Just on the defense, how nice was it to be able to see a pass rush be a little bit more consistent tonight and also the run stopping ability? I think you guys held them to under two yards a carry.

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I do think our ability to rush the passer in particular, I think we could put a pretty good sub package out there that could go get the quarterback. That’s one of the areas of emphasis in recruiting was to go get guys that can finish on the quarterback.

I think we struggled last year on 3rd down for a number of reasons, and I think we’re off to a pretty decent start there so far this year. But yeah, I think you’re spot on.

Q. What things are still a concern to you as you now head towards Tennessee here, hosting them?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think ultimately for us as a staff, we have young players that need to continue to develop. A lot of guys have gotten significant experience the first two weeks, and obviously this will be a huge game, and that Swamp will be a lot different next week. It’ll be a bigger stage.

I think ultimately getting our players accustomed to the routine and challenges each individual player and even members of the staff that are new, Sunday, Saturday — because that’s where the game is won ultimately as a competitor. If you can prepare, dot all the Is, cross all the Ts, and you’re well-prepared when you show up to the park, you’ve got a chance to play with confidence, and I think our young players need to continue to learn that.

Q. You talked about Graham’s efficiency. That was one of the things you liked. 14 of 17, you don’t get much more efficient. What’s he bringing to the offense? I know it was more run reliant tonight, but I think the 3rd-and-10 play to Ricky, that 12-yarder, that was kind of a big play.

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think really two drops, too, I would say, so he’s close to being really clean.

The guy is really bright. The guy is a really good communicator. He’s one of the hardest working players I’ve ever been around in my career.

I think his experience bring a steadiness. He has an awareness. It’s not too big for him because he’s played in big games and big stages. He’s made mistakes in his past, and I think he’s taken ownership of that.

But he’s just in a good place. He showed some toughness last week. I think he’s earned the respect of the players with how much he’s improved. This guy has grown a lot as a player since the first day he got here.

He’s what you would want your quarterback to be. He is the standard bearer. He is the example about anything you want to talk about; if you said who sets the best example, he would be on the list.

I think what you see out there is a product of a lot of hard work, and I really believe if we can continue to grow up around him and play better around him, he’s got a chance to be a really good player for us.

Q. After last season, two games fewer than 400 yards against the defense. I know there are circumstances to that, but still, given last year and that stat, what’s that say?

BILLY NAPIER: Well, I think we added good players in the portal. We added good players that are freshmen that are contributing at all levels of the defense. There’s a lot of new players out there running around.

I do think that we have veteran players that are doing a good job leading and setting an example, and I have to compliment the staff. Austin is new, and obviously he’s brought a lot of things to the table, but I can’t say enough about the growth in year two from Mike Peterson, Jay Bateman, Sean Spencer and Corey Raymond. Not only the on-field guys but we have a lot of off-field guys that are in year two, too. It’s year two in the system for players and also for that staff, and then obviously Austin has done a good job of connecting with players, connecting with the staff, putting his spin on things.

Look, I mean, there’s a lot of young cats running around out there. This is a good thing for the Gators in the future.

Q. You mentioned the big stage next week and also how many young players. How do you get them ready to maybe not let them get too high or too low with the excitement they’ll have with the Tennessee game?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, it’s a process. It’s Sunday. What do we do on Sunday? What do you do on Sunday? Let’s do the best we can do today.

I think we try to map out Sunday to Saturday for the players. That was the point of emphasis inside the locker room there with the players. Look, when we wake up tomorrow, let’s go execute your plan each day, and that’s every part of the organization, it’s not just players.

Ultimately to get to a place where you can go play with confidence, I think you’ve got to prepare a certain way, and ultimately that’s what I think we’re learning how to do. Hopefully we’ll have our best week this week.

Q. I just wanted to get your assessment on your two backup quarterbacks, Max and Micah coming in. What did you think of them? And how important was it just to get them reps knowing they could be a play away from having to go in?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think these games are beneficial in that regard. Max did some good things there in the first possession he had.

Each guy probably made a mistake or two, but for the most part, I thought Max did some really good things in that possession when we moved the ball down there and scored. He had a couple naked throws for completions. It’s definitely beneficial.

And ultimately those guys take a million reps in practice. That’s a small sample size compared to what we see each week.

There’s no doubt we need those guys to continue to develop.

Q. How would you assess your young pieces in the secondary, specifically at star with Sharif Denson and Bryce Thornton, given the change you had there this week?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think those guys have continued to grow and improve. They’ve earned more of a role on the team.

It’s a talented rookie group of DBs, when you start thinking about Jordan Castell and Jakeem and DD and Sharif, Bryce. You saw him a little bit more today. Can’t compliment that group enough. Not only talented, but I think they all have character, and they all go about their business the right way.


Q. You and Graham, how are you feeling, the confidence level you’re feeling with him, and how big was that 50-yarder for you?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I think it was really big for us. I think from the confidence standpoint, I think it’s through the roof always. I have full trust in him. He has full trust in me. It’s always good when we hit on a big play like that.

Q. Was McNeese playing you guys a certain way that was not allowing you guys to really attack much and then the run game just kind of dominated?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, they kind of came out in like a three-high look, so we just knew we were going to get the run game. That was kind of our plan initially anyway was just getting started with the run game, but from the passing standpoint, yeah, they were playing three high, so it was kind of hard to get some passes in there.

But when we got into 12 personnel sets, it opened it up a little bit more for us.

Q. The confidence level going from Utah, such a tough loss, to just running amok all over McNeese State, how important was it to build that confidence up, and how do you take that into the home game against Tennessee?

RICKY PEARSALL: For sure. I think our confidence level is always good. I think last week against Utah, we just kind of beat ourselves. I didn’t really think it had anything to do with the talent of the guys. I think it was more about executing and eliminating penalties, and obviously I think we did a better job of that tonight. I think that’s going to give us a good amount of momentum going into the next week. We’ve just got to prepare for Tennessee.

Q. I know you mentioned that establishing the run game was a key. Can you talk about what it did for the whole offense, specifically Montrell Johnson saw his role increase significantly tonight. Just talk about his performance in the run game as a whole.

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, for sure. Well, we got guys like 2 and 7 who are extremely good and gifted athletes, so I think just getting the ball in their hands early, you can’t go wrong with that. So just getting the running game going early I think helps the passing game.

Q. I know you said there was an emphasis on establishing the run today, but from a play-calling perspective, how much more confident are you guys getting now that game 2, you’re used to Graham Mertz being in there. How confident are you guys from getting the play calling and running it effectively?

RICKY PEARSALL: I think we’ve a lot more confident. When you go out there and you execute plays better, I think that boosts your confidence automatically, but yeah.

Q. Just to see him, just his poise, learning from all the years that he’s had under him, just his confidence, how contagious is that for an offense?

RICKY PEARSALL: I think very contagious. Personally for myself when maybe I’m not feeling as hyped for a game or something, I’ll hear Graham in the background yelling for all the guys, and that just motivates me, motivates all the other guys too, as well.

Graham is a really experienced guy. Everybody in the room respects him for that, and I think all the guys pull for him.

Q. I hate to bring up the bad memory, but the pick last week, what happened on that play from your perspective, and what happened on the sideline afterwards between you two and how did you work that out?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I’d like to take responsibility in that just because it’s me, but it was just timing purposes that we were off a little bit. They sent pressure, and I had an option route, and I needed to hurry up my route, and we just weren’t on the same page during that rep. I turned in and he had the ball already out, so he just got up on me, and I just had reflexes and put my hands up, and that’s where the tip happened, and then from there, I was like, okay, now I’ve got to play defense, try to get the ball down. Obviously can’t play defense.

Q. How did it feel to be able to build on some of the stuff you guys did last week and have the 50-yard touchdown tonight? What did you see on that play?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I think improvement throughout the week is the most important thing with the guys continuing to build the relationships, continuing to build the trust and get better execution through the plays.

Just repetition, just perfecting it in practice. That’s it.

Q. How much emphasis was put on eliminating the mental mistakes this week and how satisfying is it that it seemed you had very, very few?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, we definitely harped on that throughout the week. I think that was probably the main key point that we were going through as a team is we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. You’re not going to be able to beat these good teams if you just continue to shoot yourself in the foot, get penalties, have certain mistakes that are just going to set us back.

I think just emphasizing that throughout the week.

Q. It seems like you have more catch-and-run opportunities this year. Does that suit your game more?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I’d like to say it does. Obviously I like when I’m out there and I have a little bit of space and a little bit of freedom to make a move. I look forward to continuing to have that.

Q. Eugene Wilson got more of a chance today. What were your thoughts about him taking advantage of his opportunity tonight and what he was able to do?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, for sure. I think he’s a very talented player, very unique. He’s a very twitchy guy, so I think he’s one of those guys where you’ve got to get the ball in his hands in space, so I think we were going out there and trying to do that. Get him going, because the young guys it’s like, oh, they get in the Swamp and it’s new to them, but I don’t think the lights are too big for that kid. I think he’s going to be a big player for us, big impact guy, so I’m excited for him.


Q. It had been a while since you guys had a winning locker room. What was it like just to get back in the locker room and be with your teammates after a win?

JAYDON HILL: You know, any win is a blessing, to go out and just dominate and just let all the work that we put in show. Anytime it’s a win, it’s great vibes in the locker room, and it’s good to have that feeling.

Q. What was it like getting back into the Swamp today with a pretty good crowd?

JAYDON HILL: You know, the Swamp, the vibes are immaculate. It’s just a great opportunity to go out and dominate, and I feel like we took advantage of it. This week has been a big emphasis on just executing and dominating, and we did a pretty good job. But we can’t be satisfied with that. We’ve got to bounce back next week and come even harder.

Q. How important was it for you guys to put such a clean performance on tape tonight against this team?

JAYDON HILL: That’s just been our challenge this whole week. With last week with the loss, just this week, just attacking it and being consistent. As a defense, we feel like we have a chance to be pretty good for the defensive side. As a team, as well, but defensively speaking, I feel like just executing and just practicing hard every day and just putting it on tape really.

Q. You’re two games into your transition there at star, and you had the pass breakup tonight out of the slot. How do you feel like that’s going for you personally?

JAYDON HILL: Pretty good. I like star a lot. I embrace the role, and I’m just ready to make any play that comes my way.

Q. You had a lot of freshman defensive backs come in throughout the game, especially at your position. What have you seen from those guys two games in, especially what they were able to put on the field tonight?

JAYDON HILL: Yeah, I applaud them boys, more for the work they put in throughout the week. Them boys prepare like veterans, and I feel like it pays off — it’s going to pay off in the long run. They’re going to be great players for us.

Q. Given last year and some of the struggles on defense, what’s that feel like just being able to kind of keep teams in check?

JAYDON HILL: Yeah, so me and Princely was actually talking about that today on the sideline, and it’s just like seeing improvement is like the best when it comes to football. We practice together every day, and just seeing the improvement, that’s what it’s all about. I feel like we’ve just got to keep improving, keep getting better.

Q. How much were you pulling for the shut-out at the end of the game? You guys were pretty close. Would have been the first shut-out since Vanderbilt, and what does it say to put together a pretty strong four quarters, including your backups, limiting them to as few yards as you did?

JAYDON HILL: Yeah, on the sideline when the younger guys were going in, I’m just motivating them, making sure they’re on top of their game and handling business. But for the shut-out, as a defense we were like — that’s what we was harping on the whole week, just shutting these guys out. Obviously we didn’t get it done, but we played pretty well defensively I feel like.

Q. How cool was it to get a safety there at the end?

JAYDON HILL: Oh, yeah, that was lit, yeah. I haven’t seen a safety — when was the last time we had a safety? I don’t know, but it was really cool to see a younger guy Jamari getting that and just celebrating. It was real cool to see.

Q. How jacked up does that make the defense when you get — that’s probably the hardest way to score.

JAYDON HILL: Oh, yeah, that’s like — it’s not really too many plays that compare to a safety because it’s not as frequent. It doesn’t happen as often. But it was really cool to see, though. I was happy for him. We was happy for him as a defense. Hope to get more.

Q. The pass rush that the defense was able to generate tonight, how much does that help you guys in the secondary, and how important was that to get going, especially before Tennessee next week?

JAYDON HILL: Yeah, the pass rush is like top when it comes to defensive backs. You disrupt the pass of the quarterback, it helps us out on the back end. I feel like this game, we took advantage of it, and we’ve just got to keep getting better and just disrupting timing. That’s what it’s all about. I feel like on defense, disrupting timing and all that. We’ve just got to keep getting better at it.

As a DB, yeah, we love to pass rush. It’s great.

Q. How big was Scooby’s hit early in the game? What did that do for the defense?

JAYDON HILL: That lit us up. I remember seeing it. I was kind of like on the other side, and I was just yelling. But it was really cool to see Scoob do that, all the work he puts in, and just to see it pay off and see him celebrate with the guys.

Q. You guys were close to getting a few takeaways in that back end of that defense. Is that the next step for you guys?

JAYDON HILL: Yeah, yeah, that’s always been like the main goal, but we’ve just got to keep getting better and hopefully come up with those balls that we had our hands on as a defense.

Video courtesy Gator Vision | Transcript courtesy ASAP

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