Billy Napier's 'scared money don't make money' approach nearly pays off for Florida

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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Before he was even hired, Billy Napier won a lot of Gator hearts when he said, “Scared money don’t make money.”

He pushed all his chips onto the checkerboard table that was Neyland Stadium on Saturday. It didn’t work out, but the Gators should have reclaimed a lot of hearts and hope in the process.

Tennessee won 38-33 in a rollicking offensive extravaganza. It wasn’t over until Tennessee intercepted Anthony Richardson’s desperation heave toward the end zone on the final play.

That was about 50 plays later than when most thought the game would be decided.

“There were plenty of times we could have put our heads down and quit,” Richardson said. “But we kept fighting.”

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The gambler on fourth down

Florida football coach Billy Napier during the game against Tennessee on Sept. 24, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn. In the game, the Gators went for it six times on fourth down and converted five times.

If you have bought a UF “Scared money don’t make money” T-shirt, the slogan means you can’t be afraid to lose money in order to realize big returns later. Napier’s Let-‘er-Rip approach was worthy of the highest rollers in Las Vegas.

The Gators went for it six times on fourth downs and converted five of them. That allowed them to keep trading punches until the end with Hendon Hooker and the explosive Vols.

It also allowed Tennessee fans to release years of pent-up frustration in one afternoon. You know the particulars:

UT had lost 16 of the past 17. Josh Heupel has descended like a savior from the clouds. Saturday was supposed to mark a hinge point in the rivalry.

That’s why the Vols were 10½-point favorites. That’s why Tennessee designated it a “Checker Neyland” game, with fans wearing orange or white shirts to form a giant checkerboard.

That’s why ESPN’s “College GameDay" was in Knoxville with its pregame mob scene. Everybody on set picked the Vols, except for Kirk Herbstreit.

“There has been three hours of Tennessee love. All this talk about Tennessee,” he said. “I just picture Florida sitting in their hotel room getting mad.”

Then Lee Corso capped the festivities by putting on a big Smokey the hound dog head. Whether it was three hours of Tennessee love or a crafty game plan or both, the Gators played as if they felt like throwing their TVs out of their hotel windows.

The feistiness flowed. Napier even got a personal foul for protesting a call. Under that placid exterior is a gambler who doesn't like to be crossed.

You saw his aggressiveness on the first drive, when UF went for it on 4th-and-1 from its own 40. The Scared Money tone had been set.

“It was required,” Napier said. “I just believe in it.”

Especially against a team like Tennessee. To paraphrase Steve Spurrier, you don’t beat the Vols kicking field goals.

Passing game finally breaks through

Florida tight end Keon Zipperer (9) celebrates a touchdown against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

One fourth-down conversion led to a moment long in the making — a touchdown pass.

It had been 276 days since the last one. Let history record that at 4:29 p.m., the drought was broken with a Richardson 44-yard toss to Keon Zipperer.

Let history also record that Tennessee responded with a TD at about two minutes later. No Gator was within 15 yards of Bru McCoy when he caught a 70-yard pass.

“When we go back and watch the film, I think there are going to be 12-15 plays where Florida beat Florida,” Napier said.

Most of them were on defense. Nobody expected UF to stifle Heupel’s hurry-up attack. But the Gators never even forced a punt as UT rang up 576 yards of total offense.

That was 18 fewer than Florida had, which raises the question: Will the real Anthony Richardson please stand up?

His running ability seemed to vanish the past two games. That was partly due to defenses adjusting to him, and partly to UF wanting to keep him healthy.

Caution was not in the playbook Saturday. Richardson gained 62 yards on 17 carries. Those weren’t eye-popping numbers, but running seems to relax Richardson.

He completed 24 of 44 passes for 453 yards. For the first time in almost a month, he looked like he was having fun.

“He flipped the switch and competed in the game,” Napier said. “He showed who is today.”

Which leads to another question: Did the Gators show who they were on Saturday?

On defense, you’d better hope not. But AR’s resurgence alone should get Gator Nation out of its funk. So is the resiliency UF showed by taking so many haymakers from Hendon Hooker and not wilting.

Then there’s the Scared Money attitude.

It didn’t pay off Saturday, but you get the feeling the Gators will eventually start cashing in.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.

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