University of Florida Head Coach Billy Napier talks with former All-SEC pitcher for UF Jeff Cardozo following the GatorÕs game against Charlotte at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday night, Sept. 22, 2023. The Gators won the game scoring 22 points against CharlotteÕs 7. (Caleb Ross/WRUF)

Gators showed improvement Against Charlotte, Napier says

The Florida Gators secured a 22-7 win over Charlotte at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night. After reviewing game film, coach Billy Napier provided input on his team’s strengths and weaknesses during his Monday news conference. He also gave an update on the team’s injury report ahead of Saturday’s noon game at Kentucky.

Saturday’s Successes

Though the Gators’ matchup against Charlotte (1-3) was a little too close for comfort for some Gator fans, Napier said he’s proud of his team for taking some steps in the right direction.

Napier has also been pleased with quarterback Graham Mertz’s work ethic and leadership ability in his first season at UF (3-1, 1-0 SEC). Mertz had an 87% completion percentage, his highest this season, against Charlotte.

Napier also discussed the team’s efforts on offense, with 259 passing yards and 11.3 yards per pass.

While the offense only scored one touchdown, Napier gave credit to the special teams for the work they did in order to keep the team ahead. Napier said he saw progress in the young talent on the special team’s side.

“It is an area on our team where we are playing young players.” he said. “I think a lot of guys are getting significant time that this is their first college football. I think those guys are getting better.”

Kicker Trey Smack, who was was successful on five field goals Saturday, was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Red Zone Issues

While there was a lot of positives for Napier to recognize, he also acknowledged the Gators have some serious issues in converting third downs and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The Gators were just 1 of 9 on third-down conversions against the 49ers.

Changes in the offensive line also contributed to red zone struggles, he said. Guard Micah Mazzccua and Damieon George were suspended for the first half of the game for being involved in a fight at the end of the Tennessee game. Those openings left freshman Knijeah Harris and redshirt senior Lyndell Hudson II on the starting offensive line.

Hitting the Road to Take on Kentucky

As the No. 22 Gators prepare to travel to Lexington, Ky., for their first SEC road game, Napier discussed some of the focuses the team has in order to win their second conference game and end back-to-back losses to the Wildcats (4-0, 1-0).

After reporters asked Napier if he preferred noon games to waiting all day for a 7 p.m. kickoff, he said, “I like to win, I don’t care what time the game is.”

Napier acknowledged that playing on the road is difficult in any SEC environment. Focusing on communication and non-verbal count will be key Saturday. The coaching staff is confident that through training camp and practices, the players are ready for their first conference road game.

Kickoff against unranked Kentucky is set for noon Saturday at Kroger Field. ESPN and ESPN 98.1-FM/850-AM WRUF will provide coverage. 

About Ainsley Davis

Ainsley Davis is a second-year sports journalism student at the University of Florida.

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