For game day, we asked Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army five questions, and he’s answered them for us.
1. From an outside perspective, it seems like Billy Napier’s first season is going... fine? What’s the general feeling about the Napier era so far?
I would say “fine” described things up until about halftime of the Texas A&M game, when it still seemed like Florida’s defense was a still-burning fire that had not escaped the arson of the Todd Grantham era, but the six quarters since then have probably featured four or five of Florida’s 10 best of the season. That has seemed to help achieve escape velocity from “fine” and might well get us to “good” when all is said and done, though how Florida looks against Florida State next week is going to matter.
Personally, I believe I am more cautiously optimistic about Billy Napier than most of the more visible Florida fans, who swung from denouncing Dan Mullen to hailing Napier to dissecting Napier’s flaws in predictable fashion. But I still think there’s considerable optimism that Napier is laying a foundation for significant future success, and a couple of good games in a row plus the stunning flip of recruit Jaden Rashada from a commitment to Miami that rankled many Gators when it happened are certainly helpful from the perspective of perception.
2. Vanderbilt’s pass defense has been a struggle this season, but Anthony Richardson’s passing numbers are underwhelming. Has he been getting better at that, or is he still more of a runner than a thrower?
I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s more of a runner than a thrower, as he’s very much a quarterback — it’s just that he’s not as consistent or accurate as elite quarterbacks are, or as Florida fans would like him to be.
Still, while he’s getting better, and has been able to flash unquestionably elite passing capacity in more games than not, it’s also fair to say he’s more effective as a runner — because he can be a devastating runner. He has quickness and agility that serves him well when managing the pocket and scrambling, but also has deceptive top-end speed that can look effortless when he gets upfield. For Richardson to be a better thrower than runner, he would probably have to be, I dunno, on par with C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young; that he is not is more testament to the potential he will possess so long as his physical gifts do not diminish than to him being a “bad” passer, though having room to improve obviously reflects a lack of mastery.
3. Temperature at game time on Saturday is expected to be in the 30s. When’s the last time Florida even played a game in weather that cold?
Practically every game Florida plays at Missouri happens in November, so some of those were probably cold ones close to what we’ll see tomorrow. It’s a shame there’s no snow in the forecast — I don’t know if Florida has ever played in the snow.
4. Who are some players to know on Florida’s defense?
Three weeks ago, the answer to this would have started with Brenton Cox Jr., whose speed and frame made him as disruptive as his often undisciplined rush angles made him maddening. But Florida dismissed Cox from its roster after the Georgia game, and reignited its pass rush in doing so, with Princely Umanmielen and Antwuan Powell-Ryland Jr. stepping up and balling out in roles that Cox previously played.
There is also Desmond Watson, immense and powerful on the interior of the line even when he is not snatching the football from a running back’s gut and attempting to rumble into the end zone and legend, and there are a number of corners who have been quietly solid if not spectacular this year, with Jaydon Hill’s two-pick day against Mizzou being the Florida secondary’s finest hour. Really, though, it’s been the pass rush giving A&M and South Carolina hell for the last six quarters that appears to have leveled up the Gators’ defense, and so Umanmielen and Powell-Ryland, who can harry QBs before you finish saying their names, should be the primary ones to watch.
5. Finally, predict the final score of the game.
Look: I know Vandy persevered and did something genuinely impressive in upsetting Kentucky last week, and I think the Clark Lea regime is showing signs of being a step up from Derek Mason in more than a few aspects; my “this is why you’re Vandy” jokes may well have an expiration date, if Lea proves to both be a fine head coach and one who will stick it out in Nashville.
But I also think Kentucky is quietly not very good — which, yeah, Kentucky beat Florida, but a ton of that was on Florida — and that Vandy just does not match up well with a Florida offense that will be interested in trampling its undersized run defenders even if it’s been still easier to throw on the ‘Dores this year. Unless Florida unexpectedly struggles to run the ball and Richardson can’t have success against a pass defense that literally every Vandy opponent without NFL First-Rounder (But Aggressively Mid College Quarterback) Will Levis has thrown on, this should be lopsided, probably like a 33-17 final.