The Florida football season got off to a brutal start Thursday night with an embarrassing road loss to Utah. The Gators managed just 13 rushing yards and went 1-13 on third downs on the way to a 24-11 Week 1 loss. What went wrong for Florida, and which Gators deserve the most blame?


1. Billy Napier

Is it too early in Billy Napier's Florida tenure for the seat to start heating up? The Gators went 6-7 in Napier's first year, but the only ranked team they beat was this Utah team in Week 1. They capped off a mediocre season with a 30-3 bowl game loss to Oregon State. This year's Week 1 loss makes Florida 1-6 against ranked teams under Napier.

That football team did not look ready to play on Thursday night. A team like Florida should have been be very well-prepared for a non-conference matchup against the reigning Pac-12 champions in Week 1. The Gators had all of fall camp to prepare for this game and came out completely dead. They surrendered a 70-yard touchdown pass on Utah's first offensive play with a backup quarterback.

The Gators committed nine penalties for 46 yards, some of which came at extremely bad times. Multiple pre-snap penalties, miscommunications and clock management mistakes. For a team that's so proud of its own home-field environment, Florida looked terrified of the Utah crowd. This Florida player's tweet aged quite poorly as well:

If Florida put its best foot forward and got outplayed, it would be one thing. But there are a whole lot of teams worse than Utah that would've beaten the Gators Thursday night. The offense was terrible, finding it impossible to move the ball on the ground. Florida managed just eight total yards of offense in the second quarter.

They committed false starts on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1, plus another delay of game in the red zone. They failed to convert on back-to-back fourth downs in the second half and allowed five total sacks.

Napier deserves the biggest share of blame for having his team so unprepared for the moment.


2. Chris Couch

Remember when Florida football hired Chris Couch to be the team's “gamechanger coordinator”? What that really meant was Couch would handle Florida's special teams, but Napier didn't have to count him as one of his assistant coaches.

I don't know how much responsibility Couch actually has for the Gators special teams, but if he's the one in charge, he's got some stuff to figure out. Special teams were a mess on Thursday.

Utah lined up to punt on 4th and 3 early in the second quarter. However, Florida had two players wearing the same jersey number on the punt return team and earned a five-yard penalty that kept Utah's offense on the field. The Utes went right down and scored to make it 14-3.

On the next drive, Florida shanked a 21-yard punt to give Utah great field position. The Utes capitalized and kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 14. That might be more on Gators punter Jeremy Crawshaw, but you just can't have these special teams mistakes in Week 1.

With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Utah lined up to kick a field goal, and Florida seemingly sent out only eight players on the field goal block team.

To cap it all off, the Gators missed a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter as well. Get the special teams together. They won't win you games, but they will lose you games.


3. The Gator Collective

Name, image and likeness collectives are now the most powerful recruiting tool in college football. Money talks. The Gator Collective was the group of donors that handled NIL deals for prospective student athletes, until it was replaced this spring by a bigger collective, Florida Victorious.

Anyway, the Gator Collective fumbled on a massive NIL deal for 2023 4-star quarterback Jaden Rashada. Rashada committed to Florida football in December and was set to enter an NIL deal reportedly worth upwards of $13 million. The collective pulled out of the deal, however, and Rashada switched his committment to Arizona State.

Why does this matter? Rashada made his debut at Arizona State while Florida was getting embarrassed on national television, and he looked like the real deal. He threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, which is nothing crazy, but the eye test checks out. Watch this 47-yard bomb for six:

Meanwhile, Graham Mertz made his first start for the Gators, and it wasn't pretty. He did throw for 333 yards and touchdown, which doesn't sound so bad. Those are empty stats, though, as Florida's offense was stagnant all night and couldn't convert when it mattered. Mertz turned in a 30.4 QB rating and threw a bad interception from his own 11 yard line. That pick set up Utah's third touchdown and put the game pretty much out of reach.

I'm not going to blame Mertz because, well he's just not supposed to be that good. In four years at Wisconsin, he was never anything special.

But you need a good quarterback to compete in modern college football, and Florida football doesn't have one. It looks like Arizona State found theirs, and I bet Gator fans wish Rashada was wearing white and blue on Thursday night.