Watch & Read: Every week is a new week

Press Conference

by Inside the Gators Staff
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BILLY NAPIER: I’ll tell you what, Gator Nation keeps showing up. We’re very thankful. We talked to the players Friday about the importance of homecoming. Obviously it’s independent of the competitive part of the game, the execution of the game, but one day they’re going to be coming back, and they’re going to be sitting in that stadium watching the team, and they’re going to want to be proud of how the team plays, the brand of football that they play.

Think about that, who we represent. I think University of Florida is a special place because of the significant impact it’s had on a lot of people along the way. It’s good to win on homecoming. It’s good to play a little bit better brand of football.

I do think there’s things that we need to clean up. I think we had a few too many penalties today. We tackled better. Really gave up one play in the first half, and overall got to play some players there at the end.

This game requires mental toughness, certainly playing in the SEC.

I do think that every week is a new week, and sometimes you don’t play the way you want to play. You’ve got to get up off the mat, you’ve got to go back in the ring as a competitor.

We really wanted to play smart today, wanted to play tough, fundamentally sound, and we wanted to play with better energy, and I think we got that accomplished.

Out of respect for the game and out of respect for the work that this group has done, I think they played a little more like we want them to today.

What questions do we have?

Q. Concern about some of the injuries coming, particularly on the offensive side of the ball with the offensive line and Trevor, and what does it say you were able to achieve the balance today? Seemed like you were able to throw and run the ball pretty well and pretty evenly.

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I’m proud of the players that had to play, in particular the two tackles, Lyndell, Kam Waites, both of which had an opportunity to play. Treyaun Webb did some good things today. It’s good to have Trey back. He’s a difference maker. Certainly to see Kahleil, Andy, those guys get an opportunity, and really you think about Arlis Boardingham really showed the growth that we’ve been seeing. That guy is a very capable — he’s a mismatch type player. Made some really unique plays today.

A lot of good. We challenged them, and I think they answered that challenge.

Q. Getting up off the mat is not always a given, but how do you like how they responded given how tough last week was and how much better was that locker room this week?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I continue to tell you guys that I think this group has some character about them. I don’t see — I see some maturity. I think there’s some awareness. I think they’ve got a pretty good understanding of why they want. I think they have a pretty good understanding of why they lose, what contributes to that. They’re able to stay pretty steady.

To be quite honest, I think they were embarrassed a little bit. I think there was an element to that that they wanted to get back in there and play again and make a statement that that’s not who they are.

Look, I think the staff felt the same way.

Today there was a lot of good out there. I think we’ve got to keep things in perspective. We’ve got to understand that bigger challenges are ahead, and we’ve got to really — one of the big challenges for our team is to go play well on the road. I think that’s what’s next for us, and next week will present that challenge for us.

Q. Montrell, just his performance, looked a lot like last season today?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I think Montrell, in his career, I think he went over 2,000 yards today if I’m not mistaken. Early he was good. He was really good. The one touchdown, he just makes a guy miss and walks in there.

He played big today. He’s a 217-, 18-pound back, but I thought he played with an edge today. He was tough to tackle.

We blocked them pretty good today. We got the ball to the second level. I thought we had good man answers today, and we managed the pressure with the perimeter throws.

It was well executed. Montrell was at the center of that for sure.

Q. Sometimes when you see the beaten Graham take some certain plays, what does it say about his toughness?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, I mean, I think — yeah, I want him to get rid of the ball sometimes, you know. But I think when we look at it, some of the things that happened today, he’s holding it a little bit too long probably. We want to blame others, but I think he’s going to look at it and say, man, I’ve got to get through this thing and get it out.

We took a sack on like 2nd and 1 today. I’m about to break my headset.

I think he holds — he’s really critical of himself. He wants to do everything exactly the right way.

Very coachable, a pleasure to coach, and I do think he’s a competitor. I think he showed some toughness. I think the players respect that.

For the most part, Kahleil Jackson was the only guy that threw an interception today, so he’s going to get it for that, too. Can’t get more open than that.

Q. You mentioned Kam Waites’ return to the field. Can you speak about that journey, what you’ve observed there, and what it meant to you to see someone so committed?

BILLY NAPIER: You know, Kam, I think he’ll be a chapter in the book one day. You realize this guy did not play football in high school. This guy was a — we’re over there watching LSU’s camp. This guy’s brother is in the camp. He’s there. He’s not even participating in the camp. We meet him. He’s going to Kilgore Junior College to try football. He’s a big-time AAU basketball. Jabbar meets him and says, hey, my coach would like you. You need to come over here, an hour up the road. That’s back when you could do the private workouts.

We took a flier on him, and he’s going to turn into a really good player for us, I think. 6’8″, 355. It’s one thing to have an achilles. It’s another thing to be that big and come back from it.

Look, he’s changed his body. He’s leaner. He’s more explosive. Although he’s been injured, I think it speaks to the training room, Tyler Miles and return-to-play protocol in sports science does a great job, and then certainly working with a nutritionist and strength and conditioning, that plan has worked for him for sure.

Q. You mentioned a second ago the importance of translating this to play well on the road. What needs to happen? Is it a matter of not getting too high after a win? What do you need to see from this team to translate momentum into road games?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think we’ve spent some time on it.

I think it’s a challenge to play on the road in this league. I think you see right now in college football, I don’t know what the records are, but I think the home team has a pretty significant advantage, right, in particular in our league where everywhere you go is pretty rowdy.

I think one of the things that’s important is that you start fast. You’ve got to show that you’re in the mix, that you’re ready to go, and ultimately you’ve got to solve the operating in that environment, right, the communication element, and then ultimately it comes down to execution.

I think we know when we play bad, we know why.

We’ve got work to do. Definitely going to be working on all those things this week.

Q. You touched on Boardingham a few minutes ago. Can you elaborate on his growth? What’s he done to enable himself to have a game like he had tonight?

BILLY NAPIER: Well, last year we were really high on him, and he got hurt. You remember he had the shoulder, had to go through that entire process to get back. He’s a kid who hasn’t played tight end, so he’s a receiver, linebacker. He’s a track athlete.

So all the things that we’re asking him to do are completely new. I mean, this guy hasn’t played in the C area, he hasn’t played in the wing. There’s a ton to learn in there. He’s a smart kid, but it’s almost like playing quarterback to some degree. There’s a mental part that I can’t tell you — it’s challenging. You can’t overlook that.

Then there’s a set of fundamentals you have to learn at tight end. It’s not like he had any background in that before he showed up, so it was all new. So mentally learning the system and fundamentally the physical component, all of that was new. It’s turned out to be a good evaluation.

I think he was one of the guys. We hit the ground — our personnel guys, we’re combing the entire country in terms of players that are left over that are available. He was one of those.

Look, we took a chance on the guy and brought him in. Phenomenal family. Just really good people.

It’s turned out well. I’m hopeful we’ll get more of that out of him in the future.

Q. What happened on the long touchdown play with Jason and how do you feel like the defense responded after that?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, you know, they’re telling me, I don’t know, I haven’t seen the TV copy, but they’re telling me that his facemask got grabbed and they yanked him down and he lost his balance. But I don’t know. I’ve got a hard job, and those officials have got a hard job, too.

I do think really it’s the only play we gave up in the first half. The big deal was Ja’Keem Jackson. That was a huge play in the game relative to momentum. He gives up the play, and then we were able to stop them, and then he makes the play. I thought that was one of the more pivotal sequences of events in the first half.

Q. 0 for 3 on 4th down; how critical was that in this game?

BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, conversion downs are — those are turnovers, right. We count them as takeaways. We count them as turnovers. When we talk about turnover margin, we include turnovers on downs. That’s a critical piece of the puzzle for sure.

Q. Billy, would you talk about how Trey Wilson, what he adds, how that opened the offense up.

BILLY NAPIER: You know, Trey is tough to tackle. He’s got unique acceleration, showed some toughness today, I thought.

He’s got some play strength to him, although he’s a little bit smaller guy. But we were trying to get him the ball as much as possible.

He’s one of the players that you want to make sure has an opportunity. We tried a few things that didn’t quite work today with him, but I think for the most part, we want to make sure when the game is over every week that he had his opportunity to impact the game.

Q. Did you see what you were looking for from start to finish of the week in getting ready for this game after that game last week?

BILLY NAPIER: I thought that we — I’m going to tell you, man, early in the week, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for the staff. It’s a challenge for the team. It’s a challenge for me because you’re disappointed.

But I do think we’ll benefit from going through that. I think that’s the important thing here. There’s going to be — growth comes with struggle, and I think we’ve got to keep that edge. We’ve got to remember what we felt like. That’s got to be fuel for the fire for the future.

We practice on Sunday night, and then they have about — they have a day off. We show up Tuesday.

I think by then, we had evaluated what happened. We were comfortable with why. We were trying to still figure out some of the details.

But I do think they showed up Tuesday and Wednesday were good work days. I felt like we finished — we tweaked the format of practice just a little bit, and I think it helped us.

Then we just had a little bit different focus and energy, I thought, Thursday and Friday. Again, I think it goes back to Mark’s question about a little bit embarrassed. This place, it’ll get to you if you don’t watch out.

They’re young people, so I think it’s healthy, because look, you guys know like I do, this game — I told them Friday, look, your life is as simple as it’s going to be right now, just so you know. More complicated days are coming. More responsibility is coming. It’s important that we learn from some of the things that this game can teach us.


Q. You’ve taken a lot of hits this season. Where does that one that knocked you out of the game for a couple plays there, is that one top of the list?

GRAHAM MERTZ: No, I just got hit a little weird, landed a little weird. I felt fine. It was just a little weird landing, so I just wanted to make sure I was all right.

Q. What about the guy after you released, after you threw and the guy came at your knee out of nowhere; do you remember that one?

GRAHAM MERTZ: No. The knee is fine. I mean, one thing that — I’ve taken a lot of shots in my career, so I feel like in a weird way you learn how to land and protect yourself. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule of playing quarterback. Sometimes you’re going to get blindsided and get hit, but it’s kind of feeling where it’s coming from and bracing for it if you can’t do anything. Some of those — some shot plays, I’ve got to do a better job of throwing the ball away when it’s not clean and just not taking those hits, but just got to play smart.

Q. Is there kind of a badge of honor to that?


Q. Getting back up. And when did that start happening, realizing that at quarterback you had to kind of show that to the huddle?

GRAHAM MERTZ: I mean, the big thing is you want to play the game. Like I said multiple times, I feel like I owe this place and this team everything I’ve got. A little hit is not going to take me off my mission.

Q. You’ve been doing that your whole career. I looked at Wisconsin — was it Michigan you missed a half?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, that was a big hit. I remember that one like it was yesterday.

Q. I think you went to the hospital, didn’t you?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Oh, yeah, I could tell you the whole defense on that one. Yeah, that’s part of it. I think being able to take those hits and keep moving — sometimes they’re inevitable. They’re going to happen.

But you’ve got to get up, man. I think for me, that’s my whole life. I take that approach to everything. If you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up. That was kind of our theme of the week.

So it literally happened.

Q. Speak to the balance on offense today. It was 270 passing, 210 rushing. Seemed like when you had to run, you could run, when you had to pass, you could pass. What was it like guiding the offense to a game like that?

GRAHAM MERTZ: I’m proud of the O-line. We had King and Barber out, a lot of guys moving around in there, and I’m proud of how they approached the week.

I knew we were going to be effective running the ball after watching the film last week and we corrected it. I think the O-line did a great job in the run game and the pass game of providing that. We knew they’d be multiple in their pressure looks, and I think we did a great job communicating that, getting us in the right protections, right run checks.

I think Slaughter did a great job of communicating with me and working together in that, so it was really good.

Q. Graham, winning here, you’re 4-0, it looks fantastic on the outside, but of course the big thing is trying to win on the road, and of course South Carolina is coming up next. Outside of what Billy kind of blueprinted to all of us as far as how a win works, what you need to do, how important would that be in terms of credibility —

GRAHAM MERTZ: In winning on the road? I think that’s big time. We’ve had two road losses. I think back to those games, and the big thing was we didn’t start fast, and we didn’t execute.

Going into this game, the point of emphasis was okay, we’re going to start fast and we’re going to finish faster. I think the guys did a great job of coming out swinging. We had an early turnover, but I think they did a good job of bouncing back. The big thing is watching that and realizing, okay, look, regardless of where we are, we need to start fast. I think that’s one thing Coach has been hitting on us, especially this week, and that’s one thing we’ve definitely got to build on going into next week. It’s the ability to start fast and maintain that throughout the game regardless of the circumstances, and especially on the road you’ve got to — everybody always said you’ve got to bring your own juice. That’s one thing, we’ve got to build that during the week and then bring that to South Carolina.

Q. Would you talk about how the practice week came together and getting ready and getting to the feeling that, okay, we’re ready for this game after such a disappointment last week?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing, especially anytime you experience a disappointment or anything like that in this sport, it can do one of two things, and I think I hit you guys after the game on it. There’s two ways that can go, and it can go downhill or you can go, okay, we’ve got to build and we’ve got to go uphill.

I mean, I think throughout the week, especially starting on Sunday, we hit everybody on that, like look, this is the only way we’re going. There’s no option of going this other way.

Like I said, I saw it in the O-line, in their response. I thought the guys were locked in throughout the week, and it just kept building. I thought Friday was especially clean, and we’ve got to keep doing that.

Q. Graham, sticking with the O-line, how do you feel like Damieon did sliding from right to left, and then how do you feel like Lyndell and Kam did with their opportunities at right tackle?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Man, I thought they did a great job. I think Dame did a good job moving to the left. I think Lyndell and Kam, especially during the week, did a great job. Like I said, moving parts in there, but when you’ve got a group of guys that they want to win, they want to play hard, they did a great job.

Especially a guy like Kam, when I first got here, I saw him, you look at the guy and you’re like, holy crap, that guy is a refrigerator. But just for a guy like that, I saw him go through rehab every day. It’s a blast seeing a guy like that out there, and I think that’s one thing that — especially on a team when you go throughout the year, you see guys slowly get through their recovery and get back. We’ve got a lot of guys that are hurt right now, but that’s a really, really good feeling when you see a guy like that in the huddle.

Q. How do you feel like Max Brown did with his opportunity and what did you see from him out there?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, I was excited for Max. I think one thing about Max that I see throughout the week is just his prep. I think he does a great job of asking good questions and then during practice executing.

I’ve got all the faith in him when he goes in there. I was excited for him to get some tick at the end of the game. He made some good throws and got a little facemask action, so he got into it, but I’m happy for Max.

Q. Just talk about your ability to spread the ball out to different receivers because Ricky was a little less involved in the offense today, but 17 combined targets for Eugene and Arlis. Talk about your ability to really develop chemistry with them and get the ball to them.

GRAHAM MERTZ: I think that was big time. I hit you guys last week after the game on I felt like there were some opportunities where I could space the ball out and help our run game, so I really during the week made that a point of emphasis. When I have those chances, to get those chances out there. I thought we did a good job across the board.

Ricky, I missed him on that slot fade by like four or five yards. Got to give him a little better ball, but I know that guy is going to make that play 10 times out of 10, and then you think about Trey — sorry, I’m thinking about all the misses right now, but yeah, I’m proud of all the guys.

I thought Arlis played great. I thought he played physical, especially on what was that, like a 3rd and 15. We repped all week. We knew we’d get that zone look. We talk about catch puncture, and he did a great job of catching the ball and puncturing, getting vertical and playing physical.

I’m proud of all those guys, and I appreciate everything they do during the week.

Q. Billy had said that even though Arlis, his numbers necessarily didn’t show it during the game, but he was watching him in practice; this wasn’t a surprise to see him put a game together like this. Would you agree with that?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Oh, yeah, 100 percent. Like I’ve said, just across the board, the week of prep, before the game I told the guys, look, we’re ready. Like we’ve just got to go out there and just play and have fun, and I think Arlis did a great job during the prep of stacking good days together.

I think the important thing are those Tuesday-Wednesdays, and that’s what really builds the confidence for the game, and I thought he had a great Tuesday and Wednesday.

Q. You talked about all the misses, but your completion percentage has been through the roof. You were 30 of 36 again tonight, and six games in, how much more confident are you with this group, Arlis Boardingham especially? Did you see something during the week in practice that indicated he was going to have a game like this tonight?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, I thought he practiced hard. I mean, every day. Going into even the walk-through and just his attention to detail. It’s funny, you say all the misses, and the first thing he comes up to me after the game, he’s like, ugh, I should have caught that one early in the game.

That’s just how we think. We’re always — in this game you’ve got to have a growth mindset. Complacency kills, and you’ve got to look at where you can improve. I thought Arlis had a great week.

Q. Coach said you may have held on to the ball a long time a few times tonight. Just go into that a little bit.

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, I think I was mentioning it earlier, but especially — there was one look where I could have thrown it downfield and thought I could step up and make a play and got sacked. That was the one I went out on.

But there were definitely a couple times I held the ball a little too long. I’ve got to be quicker in my decision making, and when it’s not there, especially like the intentional grounding, I’ve played football long enough to know you’ve got to throw that past the line. You just don’t hold on to the ball and don’t make a bad play worse.

I’ve definitely got to do a better job of that.

Q. Would you say the next step is to start hitting those downfield passes?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, yeah. That’s definitely a part we’ve got to hit. But we’re good.

Q. You touched on it a little bit earlier, but winning those road games, what have you learned from the trip to Salt Lake and the trip to Lexington, whether it’s good or bad, that you can use next week?

GRAHAM MERTZ: Yeah, I’ve played in a lot of away games. The ones that go right, you start fast. I mentioned that.

But we hit on it after the Utah game. It comes down to execution. When the environment is loud, how can we use nonverbal communication, how can we get that right during the week so we can be ready for the game.

The big thing, this game is all about execution, but especially when you’re on the road it’s starting fast and executing. I can guarantee you that’s going to be my point of emphasis for this whole team this week.


Q. You guys have talked about generating more turnovers as a defense. Today, three fumbles, three prevented 4th down conversions. How important was that to get going as you get into the second half of the schedule?

SHEMAR JAMES: That was a big change around in the game. We take pride in 3rd down stops and just getting turnover is generated as a defense.

Q. Looks like here only 50 something rushing yards, like 58 rushing yards for Vanderbilt. None of their running backs were over 30 yards. Talk about seeing that from the run defense and really shutting down their run game.

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. That was amazing to see, just being a part of that, holding those running backs to the least amount of yards as possible. We still had that bad taste in our mouth from last week, and we just wanted to come out this week and execute.

Q. Could you speak a little bit to that motivation from last week and just how you saw it applied during the week as you prepared for this game?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. We were embarrassed. As a defense, as a team, as a unit in general, like it was embarrassing. That wasn’t the Gator standard that we played to last week in Lexington, and we just wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth this week and weeks after that, as well.

Q. Coach Napier said he believes experiences like that can be healthy, though, that you guys can learn from that. Do you agree, and how do you feel about that?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. We know how it feel to lose real bad, and we know how it feels to win. We don’t want that feeling in our mouth anymore.

Q. Shemar, would you talk about the practice week and feeling the momentum building up to have a good week on the field?

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, most definitely. We came out Tuesday with our hair on fire. Like we was out there, turned up, ready to get to this game on Saturday, prepare each and every day, and like you said, last week’s game was unacceptable, and we just wanted to make it right this week.

Q. How do you translate this kind of an effort on the road because that seems like it’s the big issue right now. You guys are 4-0 at home, 0-2 on the road. How do you take this mindset into next week?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. Play every game like it’s a home game. I guess that’s how we’ll take it. Going on the road, you just we’re on the road. Our backs are against the wall; we only got us, just us. We just need to come out, start fast and finish fast.

Q. Holding Vanderbilt to I think less than 60 yards rushing, how important was that to contain that and then force them to beat you through the air?

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, that was most definitely important for us as a unit, as a defense. That’s just our standard this year. Coach Armstrong tries to hold us to that standard each and every week.

Q. You spoke about Coach Armstrong a little bit. How can you talk about the impact he’s had on y’all. After that big play that Vandy had, they got inside the 10-yard line and then you guys held your ground. It never feels like you’re truly out of it no matter what happens.

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, one play, one drive, that’s what he tells us. If we had a bad play, go on to the next; if we had a good one, go on to the next. It’s a 60-minute game, and we’ve got to play every drive like it’s our last.

Q. Coach Napier said they tweaked practice a little bit this week. What were the changes to practice?

SHEMAR JAMES: We were still going hard, so I wouldn’t really notice. But I guess we took a little bit off our legs I would say and just — when you take a little bit off our legs, you go harder each and every rep.

Q. You’re a young guy, but you had a lot of young guys in the game tonight. Can you talk about what you’re seeing from some of those guys?

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, our young guys, they’re some ballers. They came in ready to work, and that’s why they get to play on Saturday nights and Saturday evenings. We’ve got young guys like Bryce Thornton, Jordan Castell, T.J. Searcy. Those are some guys that play like veterans, as you guys see. They’re a big impact on our team.

Q. Can you talk about the sequence from Ja’Keem, giving up the 52-yard catch and then coming right back the next play, staying locked in and making that pass deflection on 4th down?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. That’s just Keem being who Keem is. He gave up that pass, but next play, next drive, know what I mean, and he didn’t let him catch the next ball that he threw to him. That’s why I respect Keem a lot.

Q. How hard is that to do mentally as a defensive player?

SHEMAR JAMES: Most definitely. That’s very hard. You just got a ball caught on you, and it’s kind of like the natural ability is just to hang your head, but he kept his chin high and just played until the drive was over.

Q. (No microphone.)

SHEMAR JAMES: Yes, sir, since I’ve known Arlis he’s been making plays, and Eugene, as well, and those are just some playmakers that we have on our offense, and you should expect a lot more from them, as well.


Q. What was the defense’s mindset heading into Sunday’s practice and then into the game week?

TYREAK SAPP: Man, wipe this dirt off because in this game, you try not to let that happen. You try to go somewhere with the right attitude, the right mindset, but it happened, but the thing is how do you respond and what do you do about it.

Our only thing was from Sunday until today was let’s wipe this dirt off. Let’s get up off the mat, let’s get up out of the mud, clean this off and go back to work, and then let’s obviously correct what we need to correct and then go out there and execute and play the type of football we need to play.

Q. You’ve had a couple sacks this year. I want to know what’s going through your mind during the celebration. Looks like you kind of lose your mind a little bit.

TYREAK SAPP: I do lose my mind. But it’s fine. I’m fine with losing my mind.

Q. You guys had three forced fumbles today. What was the mindset? How important was that, and what was the conversation regarding turnovers —

TYREAK SAPP: Get the ball is the main thing, especially as a defensive player. If you are a defense that is efficient at getting the ball, then obviously you’re a more efficient defense, and then you can lead that on to having a more efficient offense because you’re being more complementary to them.

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