FOOTBALL

Billy Napier on Florida Gators' Week 1 upset of Utah: 'We were very fortunate to win'

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

As Florida football prepares for No. 20 Kentucky this week, head coach Billy Napier offered an honest assessment of UF's 29-26 upset of No. 8 Utah in its season opener. 

"When we evaluate the game Saturday, we were very fortunate to win the game," Napier said Monday. "Very pleased with the intangibles of the team. We showed some mental toughness. I thought we showed some togetherness."

Statistically, the game was even, with Florida gaining 451 yards to Utah's 446 yards. The difference was execution in the red zone. Florida went 3 for 3 on red zone scoring chances, with 21 points on three rushing touchdowns. Utah was 4 for 6 with 24 points. The Gators recorded a goal-line stand early in the third quarter to thwart one Utah red zone scoring opportunity, then sealed the game with another red zone stop, with Amari Burney diving for an interception of a Cameron Rising pass with 17 seconds remaining.

"We protect, we defend every blade of grass," Gators defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp said. "We don't care where it is. We defend every blade with it all. We fight for every blade of grass no matter what."

Here are three things we learned from the Florida victory. 

Grading Florida's Week 1 performance: How did offense, defense and special teams look?

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More:Five takeaways from Florida's 29-26 win over No. 8 Utah: Anthony Richardson comes up big

Run defense needs fine-tuning

Gators defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp (94) celebrates after a sack during the first half against the Utah Utes at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, on Sept. 3, 2022.

Florida surrendered 230 yards rushing on 5.9 yards per carry against the physical Utes. Most of that damage came in the second half, when Utah rushed for 181 yards.

In reviewing the film, Napier said many of the issues were the result of communication and alignment: "One player being misaligned causes the combinations to be a little bit more, you're stressing a part of the defense," Napier said. "We've got to play team defense, first level, second level, third level. Got to work together and play team defense, right? One player is out of their gap when you're playing a good team, you can get exposed, and I think we saw a little bit of that."

Sapp said communication among the front seven will be a focus in practice this week. "We're going to get that cleaned up, making sure everybody is on the same page," Sapp said.  "Obviously that was my first game ever in The Swamp, and I can tell you right now, The Swamp is real. You've got to buckle up and be ready for that." 

Trevor Etienne could be a factor in the run game

True freshman running back Trevor Etienne made the most of his opportunities in his Florida debut, rushing for 64 yards on 5 carries with a long of 21 yards. Etienne displayed both speed and elusiveness.

"He's a shifty kind of runner," fellow running back Montrell Johnson Jr. "He has great lateral quickness, and he gets off well, and he's a home run threat."

Ricky Pearsall is top target

Ricky Pearsall wound up with a team-high 67 yards receiving on four catches, showing an ability to get open on crossing routes over the middle. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson tried throwing deep to Xzavier Henderson once but the duo couldn't connect. Henderson, though, was effective on some wide receiver screens, finishing with six catches for 41 yards, with 27 yards coming after the catch.