What Billy Napier, Graham Mertz, and Shemar James said after 24-11 loss to Utah

by | Sep 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Graham Mertz throws against Utah

Florida traveled to take on Utah and suffered a disappointing 24-11 loss to the Utes. Here’s everything head coach Billy Napier, quarterback Graham Mertz and linebacker Shemar James had to say after the defeat.

Billy Napier

Opening statement…
“First of all, I’ve got a ton of respect for Utah, Coach Whittingham and their staff. The success that
they’ve had here, the program they’ve built, they beat us, we didn’t do enough to win, but at times
they played really good football. And I would say this, I see a lot of the things I thought I would see
from our team, from the intangible standpoint. I do think we have leadership. I do think we have
accountability. It’s a group that cares about each other. We have a lot of players that will continue
to get better as they gain experience. But there’s no question that we can coach better and play
better today. We can do our part to help our players and certainly, we had a lot of cats out there,
first game for the Gators, that made some costly mistakes in the game. You talk about defensively,
after the first play, kind of settled in and played pretty decent. We put them back on the field after
the penalty on the two jersey numbers and then we gave them a short field after the turnover. So,
outside of the big play, I thought those guys did a lot of good things. There were some positives there.
And offensively, the red zone miscues, the missed field goal, they forced us to kick a field goal and
we just had too many penalties. We had three procedure penalties in short-yard situations. We had
an illegal formation. And those are things that we can do better. I think that you find out who you
really are in difficult times and I think this group is going to respond. I know that group in there, there’s
fight in that group. You can see it already. But the things that they’re talking about, the words they’re
saying, the approach that they’re going to take and they’re going to go back to work. We got a lot
of players who will continue to improve as they gain more experience in their career. So, lot of credit
to Utah. Gators will continue to get better. We’re going to coach better and play better in the

On what he attributes the procedural penalties to…
“First of all, I think the crowd impacted the game, there’s no question about it. Early on, a couple of
those short-yardage situations we had procedure issues, guys flinching, two in particular that were
costly. And then we just were a little bit on and off in two formations there, we got to communicate
with the official better. And those proved to be issues. One of them was the third-down conversion
that did cost us, the other was the costly third-and-one where we convert the play, but it gets called
back because we’re a little bit illegal in the formation.”
On the running game…
“Well I think a lot of it has to do with the way they play. But there’s no doubt that’s an area where we
need to improve. We’ve got to get production out of the two backs. We’ve got to give them an
opportunity to impact the game. And then when we did run it, I don’t necessarily think it was as
effective as we would want it to be. I can tell you more after we watch the tape. In general, there’s
no question, we have to run the ball effectively in the future.”
On Graham Mertz’s performance…
“I was pleased with Graham. I think there was a handful of plays that he’d like to have back. A few
early that were a little inaccurate at times, but he made a lot of plays, too. It’s the first game he’s
ever tossed for 300-plus. And for the most part out there, the guy’s doing what we would want him to
do. The ball is going where it’s supposed to go. Often times, the quarterback gets too much credit,
too much blame. It’s about, when you really dig into it, it’s going to be about the players around him
playing well…”
On positive takeaways after all the build-up…
“Well, I feel like we’re in the fight. We made tons of mistakes. There’s going to be a ton of teachable
moments for a lot of young players, a lot of new players who are on the team. The first thing I told the
team after the game is ‘execution wins.’ Just call it like it is. It’s simple. I think that if we do what we’re
supposed to do at times out there, it’s a lot more competitive game. We contributed to that and I
think Utah contributed to that as well.”
On the impact of Kingsley Eguakun’s absence…
“First of all, I think [Jake Slaughter] is a competitor. He’s a great teammate. A guy that really cares
about the team, doing his job for the team. I think for the most part, he played well. We’ll see more
when we go back to watch the tape… I think that’s the most experience the guy’s ever had in his
career, the first game he’s started, I don’t believe he’s played a lot in the past. It’s a good example
of a guy who is playing his first college football tonight, and there’s a lot of them out there. Kingsley’s
a veteran. He’s an alpha. He’s communicator. He’s got experience. You think about the make-up of
the O-Line. It’s a talented group, but it’s relatively inexperienced group. They’re going to continue to
improve as we go. And listen, I’ve got a ton of respect for Coach Scalley and their defense. They
create issues for you. It’s a tough place to play. But I don’t necessarily know if that that was a major
factor in the game.”

Graham Mertz, Quarterback

On taking the field as a Gator for the first time…
“Obviously, like I’ve said in the past, it is a blessing to wear this logo, to wear these colors and when
you don’t get done what you want to get done, it hurts. I think that’s where we are at right now. The
only thing we can do now is learn from it and move forward. We’ve got a long season and there is a
lot of tape on there that is controllable stuff that I am going to put emphasis on every single day and I
know that our team will do that across the board. From coaches, to support staff, weight room,
players, the accountability will be raised after this because there is a lot of controllable[s] that were
left out there.”
On confidence that the team will improve and bounce back…
“One hundred and ten percent! It sucks, I’m upset and you can tell from my face. But, when you’ve
been through a lot of different college seasons and seen different things happen throughout a
season it really just brings you back to the big picture of it. It is a long season, we have a lot of games
ahead of us. This is a great game to look back at and be like ‘We never want that to happen again’.
You want to have that bad taste in your mouth, after watching a game like that. I mean I’m going to
hit on it every day. We know what it feels like because we all went through it together. We have a lot
of young guys, we have a lot of talent and this will be a step in their process to being a complete
team player and player and really help the University of Florida.”

On what Mertz needs to see in the one game before SEC play…
“Execution. I think that’s the word, that’s the theme. That’s what I need to see from myself, I need to
hold myself accountable to that, and I need to see that across the board. I am going to push the
guys every day. We just have to execute.”
On promising moments from the game…
“There is a lot of good stuff on that tape. I’m not going to sit up here and say it was all terrible. A lot of
young guys making plays, a lot of guys making plays. Like I said earlier, I think this tape as a whole will
be great to learn off of, to build guys confidence, to correct. I think in the long run we will look back
at this and be like ‘this is the changing point in our season’. A lot of guys learn from that, and that’s
what I expect the guys to go through.”

Shemar James, Inside Linebacker

On the leadership and accountability in the locker room…
“Everyone, but Tyreak Sapp, for example. He is a very vocal leader. Caleb Banks, Cam Jackson, a lot
of our older guys that I look up to on the defense and are also great leaders on the team. I feel like
going into halftime they gave us that energy back along with Coach Armstrong that helped us finish
strong in the second half.”
On Utah’s first play and how to rally …
“It’s really an execution thing. You take it one game at a time, and unfortunately, we fell short this
game. We get back to the drawing board when we get back to Gainesville and prepare for our next
opponent. The opening play was a big one, but we bounced back from it in the second half. It was
just our errors and comes down to execution.”
On not expecting from the Utes Offense…
“We went through everything that they ran in practice and in walk through’s multiple times. It just
came down to execution like I mentioned before. Just guys getting to antsy or forgetting their role or
their job on a play. We beat ourselves. I can’t say that there was any player that dominated us, but
player for player eleven on eleven.”
On defense holding Utah scoreless for the last part of second half…
“Great play calling from Coach Armstrong, and guys that kept fighting until the last whistle, which I
appreciate from our defense.”
On defensive depth help in the long run of the season…
“It will definitely help and give guys some breathers and keep fresh legs. I will even the guys that we
sub in, they some dudes that can make some plays on the field. I will say that in this long season, we
need guys to sub in.”
On Utah’s quarterback rotation…
“Coming in, we knew Cam Rising wasn’t going to play. So, we game planned for 13 or 16, and I feel
like we did an okay job. We can always do better on the execution part on just getting the ball
carried down. Number 13 and 16 came out and made plays.”
On mood in the locker room after the loss…
“After a loss, the mood in the locker room is not very cheerful. There is a lot things and a lot of plays
that we see out there that we can correct or just get better at. That’s what it is.”

Photo credit – Molly Kaiser, UAA Communications

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