The Florida Gators opened the 2022 season with a statement win against Utah in ‘The Swamp’. Now it’s time to turn the page and look towards the SEC opener with Kentucky, who heads to town for a primetime battle.
Defeating a team like then #7 Utah in the first game of the Billy Napier era is great. But backing it up with another top-25 win would ignite a program that’s looking to climb back into relevancy.
We all witnessed the shortcomings of the 2021 team, falling apart after the Kentucky loss and looking for some kind of positives to hang on to. The team was in disarray, the coaching staff was fired, and the fans were upset. How could a program like Florida fall off the edge so quickly? It’s not about the past for Billy Napier, but he will still get the questions about not repeating past failures, because it’s his ship now.
Turns out, believing in the culture that’s being built can go a long way in terms of improvement. Was Florida the most talented team on the football field against Utah? No, not at all positions. But they found a way to win, behind the stellar play of QB Anthony Richardson and a defense that rose to the occasion. Richardson finished the game with three rushing touchdowns, including the game-winning score. The quarterback looked fantastic for most of the game, getting outside the pocket and forcing Utah into tough situations with its run defense.
But now comes the real challenge, which is backing up what you accomplished and not getting ahead of yourself.
No. 20 Kentucky Will Be A Real Test
Kentucky presents that task on Saturday, as the Wildcats are ready for another round with the Gators. Led by QB Will Levis, this Mark Stoops led team has the talent to beat Florida, we’ve seen it before.
Being a touchdown underdog heading to Gainesville, the Wildcats will be looking to prove that they are the team on the rise in the eastern division, not Florida. You can bet Mark Stoops will be using the underdog tactic as motivation against the Gators, as he should. The only problem for Kentucky is the absence of running back Chris Rodriquez, who Stoops would not comment on this week.
Rodriquez was not listed on the team death chart again this week. That begs the question of how long he will actually be out. Stoops isn’t talking, while he lets the university handle the situation.
Billy Napier Is Confident In His Team
So, this presents an opportunity for Billy Napier to take advantage of the situation and put the pressure on Kentucky to fill the void. Even coming off the win over Utah, Napier felt his team was aware of the circumstances, knowing they had work to do if they were going to keep building momentum.
“I think we’ve got some momentum. But we also have a team that is very self-aware. I think we’ve got a smart group,” Napier discussed. “I think they understand good football. They watched the tape. They know that they can do better. .A lot of good, a lot of bad, some ugly. We’ve got work to do here. But it’s good to be 1-0. We’re excited about getting back and starting SEC play here.”
For Florida, it’s one win, against a pretty solid team in Utah. Now it’s about backing it up with another hard-nosed performance, which will present itself with a Kentucky team built off blue-collar work in the trenches.
Nobody is crowning the Gators as the team to unseat Georgia after just one game. It’s important that this team stay grounded. And Billy Napier doesn’t have a problem preaching this to his group of players.
“The film is sloppy, just so we’re all on the same page. I know we’re ready to put the crown on the Gators, but the Gators got a lot of work to do to play at our expectation and our standard.”
If Florida is going to continue moving on an upward trajectory, they’ll have to take care of a Kentucky team that is hurting at running back. That means more leg work for Will Levis. Playing without Chris Rodriquez is one thing, but Kentucky will also be missing backup Ramon Jefferson, who tore his ACL against Miami (Ohio) this past weekend and JuTahn McClain who will miss some action.
So, the opportunity is there for Florida to take advantage of the Wildcats misfortune. If this means Will Levis will have to carry the load or at least draw a few defenders, then play Kentucky’s game. This isn’t the time to get pretty, and Billy Napier knows it. To continue building a successful program, winning the games you should are the main priority.
All the pieces might not be in place yet for Florida and Billy Napier, but they’ve got enough to get the job done for now.
Don’t @ Me: Kentucky At Florida Preview With Trey Wallace
Kentucky fans are cocky, they are arrogant – all while Kentucky has never won squat in football. How will they handle The Swamp this weekend?