Watch & Read: Lots of areas need improvement

Press Conference

by Inside the Gators Staff
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Billy Napier, Ricky Pearsall, Shemar James, and Trey Smack spoke with reporters following No. 25 Florida’s 22-7 win over Charlotte.


BILLY NAPIER: It’s hard to win. It’s hard to win, and certainly we had to grind that one out. We all know the issues, red zone, forced to kick five field goals down there tonight.

But I will tell you, hats off to Trey Smack to step up and hit all five of those, and certainly defensively right around 200 yards, really gave up one possession with a couple big plays.

But complementary football, and we moved the ball up and down the field. We’ve just got to have better red zone production.

I think when we look back at that, it’s going to be very technical, the game in general. I think there will be things that are very correctable just based on what I observed out there, whether it’s a missed block or getting beat in pass protection. I think it was all very correctable.

But man, there was a lot of good. We had almost 89,000 in there tonight, and to have that two weeks in a row, to sell it out, every time they turn the lights off out there in the fourth quarter it’s a pretty special moment.

I’m proud of our team. Half the teams in college football today lost, and the Gators won. Now, are we happy with everything that happened out there? No. There’s going to be lots of things that we can improve at.

But I think we see a lot of bright spots. There’s a lot of guys that are playing good football. We had guys make their first start today for the Gators, a couple guys, and we had a lot of young players that were very productive.

The disappointing thing about games like this, these are the ones where maybe the average fan anticipates it getting out of control, and a lot of our young players didn’t have an opportunity to play because we didn’t get it under control.

But I’m proud of our team, the character of our team. We stayed into it. We continued to fight. I didn’t see a lack of effort out there. I think it’s all going to be very technical and very correctable.

So what do we got? I know we’ve got questions.

Q. Multiple instances where it appeared you guys were undermanned on returns, and special teams you guys also had multiple penalties. Could you speak to the trend —

BILLY NAPIER: Multiple penalties?

Q. Earlier in the game.

BILLY NAPIER: What were they?

Q. First a holding and then illegal block in the back.

BILLY NAPIER: Right, so the illegal block in the back, Jaden Robinson, I think would be up for debate, and I do think in the return game on occasion when you’re competitive, those things are going to happen. I mean, there’s very rarely an NFL return that doesn’t have a penalty.

But much like I just said earlier, there’s going to be technical things that we can improve at, and we did. We had a block in the back and the holding penalty, and those are individual mistakes.

They’re all going to be technique based, decision making based. But we’re close, and I think it’s been a point of emphasis in the return game.

It was good to see some production in that area. I do think that Jaden Robinson — I’ll be interested to see when we watch it a little bit closer whether it was a block in the back or not. I’ll let you know Monday.

Q. What about the 10 men on the field — it was a field goal, field goal block and a punt return.

BILLY NAPIER: We didn’t have 10 out there for the field goal. We didn’t get the returner on right there in the middle of the field, and ultimately because of the sack, that’s where the miscue was made.

We’re okay with that. We’re okay with the returner not being on the field in that situation. It’s 4th down and a mile.

Look, it’s out there where we think we’re going to be in field goal range and then all of a sudden the punter is out there.

Aware of that and very unique situation in the game, and we’re okay with that.

Q. The red zone and the short yardage, was that something you saw during the week? You were talking about during the week in practice particularly being sloppy and so forth at times.

BILLY NAPIER: No, I don’t think that. I think that’s going to be very obvious. Whether a guy missed a block or a guy missed an open receiver or whatever the case may be, look, they stopped us in the red area tonight multiple times, okay. But I think I’ll be able to give you a little bit more of a report. I feel like I know what happened, and I think it’s all easy to fix.

Q. Micah didn’t play in the second half…

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, obviously Micah was suspended for the first half and then a little bit of in-house there in that regard for the second half.

Q. Another efficient night from Graham, got knocked around a bit, though —

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, we’ve got to keep him cleaner. That was one of the things that was disappointing. But listen, I’m going to tell you, we talked about it during the week, they’ve got some guys on their side. Some of those edge cats were top 100 players in the country, Alabama, Michigan. That was the big challenge in the game was the edge players, and certainly playing without a starting tackle in the beginning, the first half — they proved to be effective players. There were issues in the pass game and the run game.

Q. Three times inside the 10, you guys had to settle for field goals, and one of them was a 4th and 1. Last year I think you guys were third in the SEC in 4th downs and going for it. Why didn’t you go for that one?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, the analytics said it’s not a go, even though it’s a 1. 15 at that point in the game makes it a two-touchdown game, so you want to go for — there’s 2:40 left in the game at that point, 15 helps you a lot more — if you don’t get it you’re 12 and they’ve got the ball. Ultimately the analytics say don’t go for it right there, as much as I wanted to.

Q. I was just surprised.

BILLY NAPIER: No, I mean, that was a test of, do you really believe in the analytics or not. Great question.

Q. (No microphone.)

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, Arlis is — we had a handful of players that made their first start, Arlis being one of those, and he played well in the game. He made some plays, touchdown, big play late. We think he can be a mismatch player. The guy was a unique receiver/linebacker in high school. He’s really developing nicely.

I thought he had the best week of practice that he’s had. Odom was a little bit banged up, and we decided to sit him, and Arlis stepped up and played really well in the game. I’m proud of Arlis. I think he’s got a bright future in front of him.

Q. (No microphone.)

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I don’t know what the net was on that punt, but we definitely blocked one — nobody asked about that. We’re close on a punt return tonight. We blocked a punt. We made five field goals. We kicked a bunch of touchbacks. Crawshaw was outstanding in the game. And we played good on defense.

We’re sitting here a little bit disappointed because of red zone issues and a couple sloppy turnovers in the game. Trust me, nobody is more pissed about that than I am.

No, I think Wingo is one of the more impressive young men that we have in our program, and he practices with effort. He plays with effort. This is a guy who missed the off-season with a shoulder surgery, and he’s played a critical role in some of our 3rd down success. He’s a great communicator, and he plays a lot on all of our special teams.

Wingo is what you want a University of Florida football player to be. He’s a class act. It’s good to see a guy like that who does things the right way consistently have some success.

Q. Ricky Pearsall’s one-handed catch, about as good as I’ve seen. What was your vantage point of that? Secondly, 22-7, like you said, not the greatest, but can that be maybe a good thing going to Kentucky, playing with a little edge?

BILLY NAPIER: No, I think you’re spot on. How about that catch, huh? I’m running four verts and the safety is tilted to Ricky, I think he’s getting ready to rip a field seam in there to Caden, but then he throws a two ball and — I don’t know, that one would be — Ricky Pearsall, I’m telling y’all right now, this guy is a very underrated player. He is one of the best receivers in the entire country.

He’s bigger than you think. He’s more explosive than you think. He came back to improve his stock for the draft, and he’s doing it. Not to mention the leadership and the character that he brings every day, the work habits. Ricky is a very effective player because he’s highly skilled. He can get open at the line. He can separate at the top of the route, and he’s got fantastic ball skills and hand selection.

Yeah, I think that was one for the books right there for sure.

Q. (No microphone.)

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think so. I’m trying to help our young guys in there sort through all this, but I do think that this group kind of thrives off the hate, if that makes sense. There will be some things that come with keeping this one a little too close.

I think ultimately there will be some things that we can learn from this game. We talk about red zone touchdowns all the time. We want to be 70 percent touchdowns in the red area, but we want to be 100 percent red zone scoring, and it was a factor.

I think if you add 20 to that score, I’m probably already taking a shower right now. Y’all would have much less questions, okay.

We moved the ball really effectively. We’ve got to score touchdowns when we get it down there.

Q. Only 1 for 9 tonight on 3rd downs; that was a problem last week in the second half and carried over it seemed this week.

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah. I think the turnovers — look, we played some of those were two-down approaches, right, and I think that affected a little bit.

But yeah, there’s no question. Ultimately — and they’re in the red area, right. Got to get it better, there’s no doubt. That’s one of the stats that’s going to stand out.

Q. And center down to right tackle, all young guys, newbies basically?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, Jake is out there, Knijeah, Lyndell made his first start, Knijeah made his first start. You’ve got some guys out there, but it’s healthy. It’s good for them. It’s good for our team.

We had other players playing. We talked about Arlis earlier, Hansen is out there as a rookie, Andy Jean played a lot of snaps tonight, did a nice job in the game.

Yeah, I think we’ll definitely benefit from some of that experience, whether it was because of injury or suspension. That will be a positive for us.

Q. I was wondering if you had an update on Kamari Wilson. We didn’t see him before the game and he was only briefly on the sideline.

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, Kamari Wilson didn’t make the travel roster this week, so we can take 80 to the hotel, and Kamari wasn’t on that list.

Yeah, it’s pretty simple.


Q. Obviously the catch, just talk about it.

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, man. To be honest, in practice with Coach G, we practice that actually. We practice a bunch of scenarios of catches, and we actually ended up practicing that one. I wanted to shout him out and also shout the equipment staff out for the gloves.

Q. When Shemar was here a few minutes ago, I think he said you’ve done that a lot in practice. Can you confirm or deny that?

RICKY PEARSALL: I’d like to say that happens a lot in practice, but that was a pretty good catch, though. When the opportunity comes, I’ve got to come down with it in any way possible.

Q. Not only that, you took the hit. Pretty good hit, wasn’t it?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I think that just comes with being a receiver, to be honest. Sometimes you’re going to be put in a situation where you’ve got to take a hit, but you’ve got to sacrifice your body. That’s what happened.

Q. Overall six catches for over 104 yards. Did you guys notice a mismatch or something you could attack in terms of your ability to get open early in the game? I think you had five right off the bat.

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I think — man, I’m not going to lie, I think I’m a mismatch for any DB to be honest, but that’s just the mentality that I’ve got to have as a receiver. I’m going to say that.

Q. I think Graham’s efficiency remains pretty ridiculous. What’s he been doing? He came here with the reputation of being a little erratic. We haven’t seen much of that.

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, that guy loves football. That’s a simple answer right there. He loves football. He’s always in the building. He’s always studying. He’s always asking questions. He’s just one of those guys that really wants it that bad, and you can tell, and hard work pays off obviously what he’s been doing on the field.

Q. Just the kind of ball he throws…

RICKY PEARSALL: Oh, yeah, it’s a very catchable ball. He’s got arm talent as well. So that’s going for him, as well.

Q. Pretty tough guy. All quarterbacks tend to be, but what are you seeing there? He got killed on that one play. The other guy was hurt more than he was, that hit him?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, he’s a selfless guy. He’s got that dog mentality. He’s going to get up after every hit. I see him take a shot, I have faith that he’s going to get up and play. That’s just kind of the guy that Graham is, to be honest.

Q. Some of the red zone issues, you start out, you have a great first drive and second drive you have to settle for a field goal. Was that a little frustrating or deflating given the start you got off to?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, it was frustrating, but that’s football, man. At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out there and execute our plays, no matter what’s being called, and that’s our job. We’ve got to go out there and handle that. We’re going to group together and look at all the things that we did bad and all the things that we did good, and moving forward obviously fix those mistakes.

Q. Some of the younger guys were able to get a little bit more snaps tonight, Arlis with that receiving touchdown, Andy with the deep catch and then the run on the trick play. How do you feel like they performed today?

RICKY PEARSALL: I’m proud of all the young guys, just to be able to go in there in that stadium and step up like that. We had a lot of guys down this week, so being able to have that next-man-up mentality is super important, and those guys embrace it through practice. They work their tails off, so I’m just really proud of them.

Q. Question about that catch; it just looked so reactionary at that point. Was the ball a little too high and that’s how you had to react to that?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I probably could have jumped up and grabbed it with two, but I don’t know what happens, but I just felt like doing it. I don’t know how to describe it. In the moment I just felt like doing it, so I just did. Good thing I came down with it.

Q. Secondly, what was it that Charlotte was doing that — everybody could say we shot ourselves in the foot, all the times we got down in the red zone, but were they doing something differently than Tennessee did last week or even the week before against McNeese? What were they doing that was disrupting things for you?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, first and foremost, I just want to say they’re a really well-coached team over there. They’ve got some talented guys over there, as well.

I think it comes down to just executing on our own side of the ball and eliminating mistakes. I think it’s just all on us at the end of the day.

Q. Not to ask you another question about your catch, but obviously you got a little bit of a break when they were reviewing for targeting, but is it hard because you still had a drive to finish there. Is it hard to continue the drive and not think about what the bleep did I just do?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, no, I just wanted to score, to be honest. I just wanted to score. Man, I just wanted him to throw it up again and do it again. But we were just trying to get in the paint.

Q. Despite getting the win, I know so much of the conversation was about things the team could have done better. Is there a little bit of a motivation here from maybe some of the plays you left out on the field, some of the things you still have to get cleaned up?

RICKY PEARSALL: For sure, for sure. I think we emphasized that throughout the week was like, okay, we beat a team like Tennessee who’s really good. We’re going to have a lot of excitement. I think we’ve just got to be able to handle that better throughout practice and always have that chip on our shoulder no matter what. We’ve got to be 1-0 each week, so I think we’ve got to do a better job of that.

Q. Would you say that this was a bad or below-average practice week?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, I think it was at times, but I still think we did a lot of good things throughout practice, but football is a game of execution. We’ve got to execute better.

Q. The SEC road, what challenges does that pose? You guys have seven straight SEC games now in eight weeks.

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, man. The SEC is probably the best conference in the country. It’s going to be a challenge regardless.

But we’ve got to take it day by day, make sure we’re doing our jobs on a daily basis, game plan for a team like Kentucky who’s really well-coached, as well. They’ve got a lot of talented players over there, too, so just take it day by day.

Q. What do you remember from them last year?

RICKY PEARSALL: That they’re a tough team, and obviously we didn’t come out with a win, so that stuck with me the most. Going into next week we’ve got to have a lot of motivation to go out there and get a W this time.

Q. Physical team; what is their signature do you think?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, they’re a physical team. I think last year looking back at the tape, I think we go back to shooting ourselves in the foot, I think that’s really what it came down to. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t do that and execute.

Q. Billy mentioned that this was kind of an opportunity for you to prove yourself and just your worth as a pro receiver and just kind of in general. How much do you feel like you’ve been able to capitalize on the opportunity to come back to school and show what you’re capable of?

RICKY PEARSALL: Yeah, man, that’s a good question. There’s a lot of games left, so I’ve just got to keep doing it, got to keep having that chip on my shoulder, and going into practice and grinding every single day and getting better at something each and every day.

I think that’s my main focus right now, not necessarily what I’m doing or what’s going on in the future. Just at the present moment, what can I do now that’s going to benefit me moving forward.

Q. Do you reflect on the first four games, okay, this is validating the decision to go back to school at least?

RICKY PEARSALL: No, I reflect on those games in more of like a learning standpoint. I’m like okay, I could have done this and that better.

Sometimes numbers and things like that may look better than they are, but I’m my biggest critic. So when I look at the tape, I’m like, I could have done this better or maybe I could have made a move right here and this could have been a touchdown. So just keep doing that, and I feel like that works for me in improving.

Q. Is that the best catch of your career?

RICKY PEARSALL: Oh, yeah, for sure. In game at least.

Q. (No microphone.)

RICKY PEARSALL: I actually haven’t checked my phone yet, but some of my teammates were good catch, good catch. I was just glad we got the win.


Q. This defensive performance to start the season, what do you think has gone into this, and what has allowed you guys to be so successful so far?

SHEMAR JAMES: I’ll say effort and just teamwork, and I’ll say just the physicality up front and in our back seven.

Q. You and Scooby were performing a pretty good little tandem. How is that going?

SHEMAR JAMES: It’s going amazing. We’re always on the same page. He always knows what I’m doing, he always know what he’s doing, so that allows us to play fast.

Q. How has he evolved as a linebacker? What have you noticed in his evolution?

SHEMAR JAMES: I would say him just being more comfortable in the defense. When you know it, you play faster. So I would say him not second-guessing himself, sort of like what he did last year.

Q. Talk about your defense every ballgame keeping people out of the end zone, making big plays on 3rd down, et cetera. Talk about the mentality that goes into when the other team gets 3rd down on you?

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, like Coach Armstrong said, it’s a privilege to play on 3rd down. When we come with our 3rd down package, guys want to get the quarterback and get the stop on 3rd down.

Q. That’s kind of an improvement over last year, isn’t it?

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, most definitely.

Q. You guys had to come in preparing for two quarterbacks and they kind of rode with Jalon Jones. The adjustment for that, he did scramble a little bit, but you guys managed to corral and contain him and keep him from being a major factor in the game.

SHEMAR JAMES: Because he likes to use his legs a lot, so kind of just limiting him to do that, make him throw in the pocket, and we kind of came out successful while doing that.

Q. Three sacks, too; what was the pressure like tonight? You had one of them.

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir. You know Coach Armstrong, he’s a big pressure guy. He wants to get to the quarterback and hit him, so that’s what we did tonight.

Q. That forced fumble that Scooby had on the first drive of the game, obviously Charlotte recovered, but how do you think that sort of set the tempo defense, making a play like that the first drive of the game?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. It gave us that spark to start the game, and we kind of rode with that throughout the whole entire game.

Q. You guys were favored by four touchdowns, and it was a closer game than some might have expected. How do you build off of this because now you go into pure SEC play for two months here?

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir. Like you said, just building off of it, getting back to the film room tomorrow, correcting our mistakes and just getting better for Kentucky next week.

Q. In terms of momentum, do you feel after such an emotional win last week, do you feel like this was kind of to be expected a little bit?

SHEMAR JAMES: Not at all. You know Coach Armstrong and Coach Napier always say don’t play down to the competition; raise the standard; set the Gator standard. For any game, we play a faceless opponent, so that’s what we tried to do tonight, but unfortunately we came out with the W, but it was kind of a little bit sloppy.

Q. Just talk about those guys in front of you on the defensive line, how easier they make your job?

SHEMAR JAMES: Oh, so easy. Cam Jackson, Caleb Banks, Chris McClellan, like some big guys you don’t see every day walking around. They made me and Scooby’s jobs a lot easier, playing behind them and allowing us to run free to the ball.

Q. What did you think of Ricky’s catch? Were you able to see it?

SHEMAR JAMES: I did. It was amazing. He does that almost like every day, so I was kind of used to it, like Ricky did it.

Q. What’s his impact on this team from a leadership standpoint and also what he brings on the field?

SHEMAR JAMES: Like you said, a great leader on and off the field. It’s always amazing to get a leader that can also play good ball.

Q. He does that every day, that catch, something along those lines?


Q. When you see Coach Armstrong on the sideline and his personality, is it kind of bleeding over to you guys?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. He says smile, like just smile sometimes. We’re playing in the Swamp. It’s a blessing to play in the Swamp. He kind of told us, we always had our game face on; he was like, smile. He hit me, why you not smiling. That kind of cracked me up.

Q. (No microphone.)

SHEMAR JAMES: Wingo is a great player, a great teammate, a great linebacker to play next to, and that’s just Wingo being Wingo.

Q. Any thoughts on Kentucky, what you guys are going to bring? It’s the first SEC road game.

SHEMAR JAMES: It’s an SEC game. We’ve got to bring it 110 percent every single game, especially an SEC game. But we’ll look at Kentucky tomorrow and Monday, but right now we’re just kind of celebrating our win against Charlotte.


Q. 5 for 5, the performance, how did it feel, but what was the week like for you? Were you expecting to be the placekicker this whole week?

TREY SMACK: No, I wasn’t expecting it. I mean, I think that the preparation came the same. As I said back in fall camp, I think Adam and I are both back and forth at each other, and I think I was pretty fortunate to come out on top.

Adam is a great kicker. I love him to death. We were battling back and forth in practice all week.

It’s a good feeling to go 5 for 5, but I think Adam could have done the same thing, too.

Q. I think four of the five were within 33 or 36 yards but then you have the 54-yarder. When you’re coming on to the field, what’s going through your head? Are you nervous before a kick of that length or do you feel pretty confident in your own ability?

TREY SMACK: I would lie and say I wasn’t nervous because obviously I was getting nervous, but it’s a good nervous. I’m excited to — it’s like an excited nervous. I was more excited than I was doubtful nervous. It was good.

I trust in my operation. Rocco did a really good job of snapping the ball back there, and Jeremy did a great job of putting it and placing it the right way with laces, and the operation was just really clean, and I’ve got to give credit to them.

Q. After a performance like this, how much do you expect your phone to be blowing up throughout the week?

TREY SMACK: Not sure. Probably just going to call my mom, call my mom or dad. Probably not going to look at it too much.

Q. There was a time-out before the 54-yarder. Did you kind of talk Coach Napier into it, or was there a discussion on the sidelines as to whether you had that kind of range? How did that go?

TREY SMACK: Napier, I don’t think I talked to Napier. I was kind of just locked in. I think we knew we were going to kick it, and I really thank Napier for having all the trust in me to go out there and make that 54-yarder. It was good.

Q. What would you say your range is? That looked like it could have been good from another three or four out. What would you say your range?

TREY SMACK: I’m not sure. I think anywhere instead of probably just 60 maybe. I don’t know how far that was. That was probably the cleanest ball I’ve ever struck. It felt really good.

Q. What’s the longest one you’ve ever hit in practice?

TREY SMACK: In practice, I think just messing around or off sticks or with an actual — my longest was 67.

Q. You’re kicking today, and it may feel like the Gators fans were helping you a little bit, maybe quieting down when you’re taking some of them. How do you feel going into a hostile Kentucky environment next week? Maybe they’re going to get real loud whenever you’re taking a kick. Is that something that affects you mentally at all?

TREY SMACK: I wouldn’t say so. I would say I’m kind of just already locked in at the holder and the kick. I don’t really notice even if it is loud. It doesn’t really bother me.

Q. (No microphone.)

TREY SMACK: My leg is really sore right now. I said it was eight field goals equals one kickoff, so I had seven kickoffs, including warmups, too, yeah, my leg is not doing so great right now. That last kickoff, I was lucky it even got in the end zone.

Q. (No microphone.)

TREY SMACK: I have all confidence in both — in all the special teams guys we have: Jacob Watkins, Gannon Burt, Rocco Underwood, Jeremy Crawshaw and Adam, and even Ara emerged. I do have confidence in all of them.

I think that we have a group of guys that are equally as talented, and it’s really hard competition between all of us, which makes us better. So yeah, I think we’re a really talented special teams unit.

Video courtesy Gator Vision | Transcript courtesy ASAP

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