After a single game in the 2023 season, we still have many questions about the issues that plagued the Florida Gators in Billy Napier’s debut season. These issues include red zone production, penalties, and special teams, which were previously documented. Unfortunately, Florida still faces other issues from last season, and perhaps none are more important than the lack of success in translating passing production into wins for the orange and blue.
In Thursday night’s game against the Utah Utes, Graham Mertz exceeded expectations with his performance. He completed 31 of 44 passes for 333 yards, resulting in a conservative 10.7 yards per completion.
However, the Florida ground game did not fare as well in Salt Lake City. Despite expectations, they only managed to run for a total of 13 yards against the Utes. Even when adjusted for sacks, they only gained 60 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per rush. Trevor Etienne led the team with seven attempts for 25 yards, while Montrell Johnson gained six yards on three carries.
Therein lies the problem. Billy Napier’s offenses at Florida require a productive run game to win, regardless of how good the passing stats are. Big passing yards don’t equate to wins in Billy Napier’s offense.
Under Napier, the highest number of pass attempts the Gators have won with are 28 attempts at Texas A&M last season. Florida is 0-5 under Napier when Florida attempts 30 or more passes. That stat is coupled with the lack of production from the Florida ground game.
This table shows varying results, but the passing stats are usually higher because Florida is struggling on the ground. In four of these five losses, the Gators averaged less than four yards per carry. When Florida has more than 30 pass attempts in these games, they are averaging only 2.7 yards rushing. This forces the Gators to pass, playing right into opposing defenses’ hands. Although Florida passed for over 300 yards in three of these games, it wasn’t enough to overcome lackluster performances on the ground.
In the six wins under Napier, the ground attack averages 7.4 yards per carry. The formula for winning under Billy Napier is easy to see: the Gators must run the ball to win. Opposing defenses are aware of this and are forcing Florida to pass. The more passes, the less likely Florida is to win under Napier so far.
Hopefully, the Florida running game will perform better than what was seen against Utah. If not, Billy Napier will have to rely on a passing attack that has shown to be insufficient for winning games thus far.
Photo credit: Molly Kaiser, UAA Communications