5 Statistical Trends Florida Must Reverse in 2022

The Billy Napier era begins Sept. 3 when No. 7 Utah visits The Swamp (7 p.m., ESPN). The game marks Florida’s first home opener against a top-10 opponent since 1969, when No. 7 Houston visited The Swamp. Florida will be hoping for a result similar to that game, in which an unranked group of Gators beat the Cougars 59-34 behind a national player-of-the-week performance from Cuban comet Carlos Alvarez. Either way, a game against the Utes, one of college football’s most disciplined, well-coached organizations, will serve as a big barometer of where Napier’s program is as he begins his tenure at Florida.

Another great barometer will be whether the Gators can reverse a handful of statistical trends that have plagued the program over the past few seasons. Here’s a look at 5 statistical trends Florida must reverse in 2022.

1. A run defense ranked in the bottom 5 of the SEC

Todd Grantham’s last 2 defenses at Florida ranged from middling (2021) to terrible (2020), and nowhere were the problems more apparent than in run defense. The Gators ranked 71st and 10th in the SEC against the run in 2020 and 85th and 12th in 2021. How bad was last season? LSU ran for a season-high 321 yards against the Gators in a 49-42 win over Florida in Baton Rouge, despite a lame-duck head coach and several injuries. South Carolina, featuring a D-II transfer making his first career start at quarterback, ran for a season-high 284 yards in a walloping Florida, 40-17. Dan Mullen was fired after just over a week. If Florida hopes to be better than the 6-win outfit the program fielded a season ago, it better get back to basics, fitting gaps and making clean tackles against the run.

2. Special teams who are once again “special”, not among the SEC’s worst units

Heading into the 2020 season, the Gators were one of the SEC’s best programs from a special teams standpoint. Over the past decade, Florida has produced multiple All-SEC punters and All-SEC kickers and 1 All-SEC return man, and it has topped the SEC in special teams efficiency, per SP+, 3 of 10 years. Last season? The Gators finished a program worst 97th in SP+ special teams efficiency. Florida had the worst kickoff coverage team in the SEC from a net yards standpoint, the first time that has happened in a century. And while the field goal unit was expected to take a step back following the departure of future Bengals legend Evan McPherson for the NFL, the Gators had a kick blocked and returned for the game-winning touchdown at Kentucky, ending their miserable season. But hey, at least Jeremy Crawshaw didn’t finish last in the league in punting. His 44.1-yard average landed him on the All-SEC freshman team, despite netting just 38.3 thanks to a punt coverage unit that ranks among the SEC’s worst (11th). Florida isn’t a deep team, which often hurts special teams units, but Napier and the Gators’ staff will have to figure out how to coax more out of this group in 2022.

3. A minus-9 turnover margin difference

Florida must be better than 115th in the nation and 13th in the SEC (ahead of Kentucky) in turnover margin in 2022. The Gators came up empty to produce turnovers in losses to Alabama, LSU, Missouri and South Carolina. They weren’t very good at taking care of the football, and turnovers cost them at Georgia (3 turnovers led to 17 straight Georgia points) and at LSU (4 turnovers, including a fourth-quarter Anthony Richardson interception in a blowout loss). Florida’s Last Drive). The Gators have averaged 24 takeaways a season this century, the SEC’s best number, and Florida’s 22.2 takeaways are third in the SEC over the last 10 years. Back to Earth and Florida is fine, but the Gators should be better in this area in 2022.

4. 70.6 yards of penalties per game

The Gators ranked 13th in the SEC (ahead of Ole Miss) and 119th nationally in penalty yards per game in 2021. That is the case for Hall and is a trend that should be reversed in Year 1 under Napier. To emphasize better discipline, Napier’s staff has placed SEC officials at practices — not just scrimmages — all preseason and players have been handed video of all their personal penalties in 2021. Players told one person that the penalty videos were illuminating and, in some cases, embarrassing. It should be noted that this is a recent trend – Mullen’s 2019 and 2020 Florida teams, which won the Orange Bowl and advanced to the SEC Championship Game, ranked among the top 3 in the SEC in fewer penalties. Discipline ran erratic last year, and Napier, likely familiar with these numbers, should see a quick fix here.

5. Next year outside the top 50 in total defense and success rate defense

There’s nowhere to go for a Florida defense that finished outside the top 50 in total defense for the second year in a row. Florida ranked 51st last year, marking the first time since the statistics were measured that the Gators had back-to-back years outside the top 50.

How bad was the Grantham era by Florida’s defense standards?

From 1990 through the end of the 2017 season and Grantham’s arrival, Florida finished in the top 20 nationally in total defense 22 times, more than any national program other than Alabama and Ohio State. Grantham’s defense finished in the top 20 twice, then fell off a cliff in 2020, when it ranked 83rd and Florida managed to lose 4 games despite boasting one of the best offenses in Florida history.

Florida’s success rate defense (which measures the number of plays from a down and distance standpoint, the opposing offense can be considered successful in terms of another 1st-down, touchdown, or favorable down and distance) was”. Very good: The Gators ranked 61st (out of 76) in success rate defense in 2020 and 55th in 2021. ok!

Patrick Toney is considered one of the brightest young minds in the game. He and co-defensive coordinator Sean Spencer must improve the production of this unit in 2022, or a bowl game will be a tall order.

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