When Billy Donovan came to Florida, he brought with him a new way for the Gators to play. He pressed you up and down the court. His teams launched three-pointers from all over. He would even at times make substitutions like a hockey team with a “full-line change”: Five players would come off the court, replaced by five fresh Gators.
The fast, open style of play affectionately became known as “Billyball,” and Florida rode it to the Final Four in 2000.
On Saturday, while it may have looked like the Tennessee offense was playing basketball on grass, we got a glimpse at a new kind of Billyball.
One thing I like about Billy Napier is that he does not lack conviction. Some coaches go on the road as double-digit underdogs and just hope to keep it close. Maybe, by playing not to get blown out, they can cover the spread and make some boosters happy. Napier went into Knoxville with the intention to win the game, and every decision he made was with that intent in mind.
He knew that Tennessee was going to get theirs on offense and that if Florida was going to win, his Gators would need to both hold the ball on offense and score touchdowns.
That’s why Napier went for it on fourth down so often. The risk of giving the ball back to an up-tempo Tennessee offense after a short drive was the same as the risk of going for it: A worn-out defense being exploited to end the game. Those decisions made a lot of sense.
Initially, though, the two-point conversion decisions baffled me a little bit. When I was coaching at the college levels, I was up in the box on game days. One of my duties was being in charge of “The Sheet.” The Sheet has all kinds of game management information on it, but one of the biggest pieces of it was the two-point decision chart.
After Florida went for its initial two-pointer down 11, I had to consult the chart.
According to the old chart here, Florida made the wrong decision. That seemed odd — that a guy so into stats and analytics would mess up this decision — to the point that I wondered if the chart was out of date. Luckily, friend of the show and guy every Florida fan should follow Bud Davis tweeted out the following after the game:
September 24, 2022
The old chart didn’t have win probabilities on it, I don’t believe. So, in the end, Napier made the decision that had the potential to increase his win probability the most.
Those decisions weren’t mistakes, but Florida did make their share of those on Saturday.
In his press conference on Monday, Napier mentioned that there were quite a few plays during the game where it was just one guy making a mistake. Unfortunately, against a great offense like Tennessee, that’s all it takes to give up a big play. There are plenty of examples in the video, but let’s take a closer look at one here.
Against USF, Florida really struggled communicating all the motion that the Bulls offense was running. Tennessee, conversely, was not a big motion team before this week. In the preview, I wrote this:
Another interesting wrinkle to follow is how much Tennessee uses motion. They have been using motion on only 10 percent of snaps this season, which is well below the national average. However, USF gave the Gators one or perhaps two or maybe dozens of problems with their use of motion. Florida would definitely prefer that Tennessee does not combine that fast pace with motion. If they do, it could be an even taller task for Florida.
The Vols definitely noticed this deficiency in the Florida defense and broke some short motion out early in the second quarter.
Tennessee comes out in an even two by two look. It certainly appears that Florida is running a single high man coverage. In this coverage the corner will take the number one, aka the furthest outside receiver. The safety/nickel would take the number two receiver. You count from the sideline in. In the above picture the receiver on the line up top is currently number one. But watch what happens after the slot to that side motions.
The inside receiver now becomes number two. The corner, if it is indeed man coverage, correctly bumps out to the new number one. The safety/ nickel would then have the receiver who became the new number two. Should be an easy switch.
Except it wasn’t. The corner plays the new number one in man, the safety steps down as if he’s playing zone but he has no help over the top. The new number two streaks down the field untouched — possibly even ungazed upon — by the Florida defense.
Fortunately for Florida, the safety is able to come all the way over and force the receiver out before he scores. Unfortunately, saving that touchdown with that tackle didn’t end up mattering: The Vols scored a few plays later to wrestle the lead and the momentum away from the Gators.
If you want to see more like this — and a lot of good plays, too — watch the video below. There was a lot more to enjoy from Anthony Richardson and the offense at least. The defense had some opportunities to make plays but just missed. I go through a ton of fun plays from the game. Check it out below.
Florida had opportunities in this game, but just couldn’t get it done.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some shopping for this impending storm. I hear if you wear some Middle Tennessee gear that hurricanes will go out with a whimper. Fingers crossed.
Stay safe out there, Gators.