As fall camp began for the first time under Billy Napier, Florida held its annual media day last Monday. Throughout the day, players and staff alike were asked how this staff has been working to get the program back on track and competing for titles. No two answers were necessarily the same, however the same theme, or focus, could be found in the base of almost each session: details & discipline. It seems obvious at the outset, but looking back last year, the Gators were sorely lacking an attention to detail and discipline. Whether it was poorly timed interceptions, penalties in opponent territory, or mishaps in the kicking game, it felt like Florida was finding new ways to lose each week.
To get an idea of just how much the team shot themselves in the foot with penalties or turnovers, we're going to use a metric called EPA. EPA, or Expected Points Added, comes from an Expected Points model which tells us which team is more likely to score, and how many points based on current game state (down, distance, yards to goal line). EPA then takes it one step further, and allows us to provide a value to help contextualize the impact of a play (is the team more or less likely to score after that play).
Above are two of the interceptions thrown last year (neither had any sort of return by the defender) as an example to better understand how EPA works. Against South Carolina, Emory Jones threw an interception on 1st & 10 at the Florida 46 yard line, resulting in -4.7 EPA on that play. Earlier in the season, Jones had thrown an interception against FAU, again on 1st & 10, however that play started out on their own 27 yard line, resulting in -4.1 EPA. So as we can see, the EPA was higher for the interception occurring closer the goal-line, showing that Florida wasted a better opportunity being further down the field.
When we look at the Power 5 level, Florida was almost in a league of their own in a very forgettable season. If it weren't for Ole Miss (-91.9 penalty EPA), Florida would've been worst in the conference with -91.6 penalty EPA. On top of that, Florida was by far, the worst team in the SEC when it came to turnovers. Coming in with a net turnover EPA of -53.3, Florida was twice as bad as the second worst team in the conference, Kentucky (-25.1 net turnover EPA). How important is turnover margin? Of the teams in a New Year's Six bowl last year, only one (Oklahoma State: -10.0) had a negative net turnover EPA.
Post-Game Win Probability takes advanced metrics like success rates and scoring opportunities into account, and tells us the probability a team would win a game with the same stats. Applying that to last year's Gator team, a few games pop-out where the team performed well-enough to win, but was unable to seal the deal due to a number of miscues.
In the 3rd quarter at Lexington, KY, Tre'vez Johnson had just intercepted a Will Levis pass in Kentucky territory with Florida up 10-7. On 3rd and 3, Dameon Pierce gained 10 yards for what we thought would be a first down. Instead, Kingsley Eguakun was called for holding, and two plays later, Kentucky had taken the lead after a blocked kick got returned for a touchdown. From there, the Gators attempted to come back, but were called for three penalties on their final drive before the clock hit 00:00.
Heading into Death Valley against a struggling LSU squad who'd already fired Ed Orgeron, Florida couldn't hold on to the ball. Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson ended up each throwing two interceptions, four in total. At one point, Florida had come back from a 28-13 deficit, but an interception with less than 2 minutes to go proved to be the final dagger as they went on to lose 49-42.
In Florida's final single-digit loss of the season, they were called for penalties amounting to -3.2 EPA. One instance pushed Florida out of field goal position halfway through the 3rd quarter. Lining up at the 32, Florida was called for a delay of game and with an already shaky kicking game, Dan Mullen elected to punt from the Missouri 37 yard line. Two series later, when Missouri had the ball, Kaiir Elam came down with an interception, just to be called for defensive pass interference. Five plays later on that same drive, Connor Bazelak would connect on a 40 yard pass, putting Missouri up 16-13. Florida eventually tied the game, however it would be for naught as a two-point conversion with time expired would seal the win for the Tigers.
It's not really a surprise that Napier's last three UL teams were able to win a total of 34 games from 2019 through 2021; only his first team in 2018 had a negative net turnover EPA. Taking great care of the football while working to rip it away from the opposition were key tenets of their program, which seem to be taking roots in Gainesville. As they're finishing up their second week of camp, turnovers and penalties still remain a hot topic throughout each media session, driving home just how important the attention to detail is for this staff. If the Gators have truly bought in and show as much on the field, those close losses could start turning back into wins.
Feature Photo Credit: Ellie Shreve WRUF