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Billy Napier: Loss to Vanderbilt Offered Florida a ‘Reality Check’

Billy Napier and O'Cyrus Torrence discuss the "reality check" Florida's loss to Vanderbilt offered the Gators.

The Gators built their first winning streak over SEC opponents since December 2020 with victories over Texas A&M and South Carolina in Weeks 10 and 11, a much-welcomed surge of momentum after a 4-4 start to the year.

It quickly dissolved on Saturday when Florida lost to Vanderbilt, 31-24, for only the second time since 1989.

The loss finalized the Gators' conference record at 3-5 this season and their second losing campaign in the SEC in a row, an unfavorable streak of its own that UF last compiled in 1958-59.

The history-making defeat offered Florida what head coach Billy Napier considered a "reality check," serving as a reminder that the Gators have growing left to do as he attempts to rebuild the program with the first year of his tenure approaching its end.

Starting right guard and Midseason All-American O'Cyrus Torrence shined a light on the team's reaction to that realization as it turns its attention to the final game of the regular season, against the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles on Friday.

"After the game, of course guys are going to be upset. But yesterday after we watched the film, we kind of put it to bed," Torrence said on Monday. "You could kind of see, like, the leadership part of the team kind of stands out when we get in these types of moments. This isn't our first loss. We've been here before."

"So this is the time when the leaders of the team kind of really steps up and shows why they're the leaders, and it kind of keeps the team in check because we know we've got a short week and we've got a big rivalry game. So there's no need to mope on the last loss. We just get ready for the next game."

The reality is that Florida must strive to be a more consistent football team, even in the final week of the season as a win over the Noles could set the stage for an improved campaign in 2023.

Napier raised the point of inconsistency across college football — look no further than South Carolina dismantling No. 5 Tennessee, Arkansas running over No. 13 Ole Miss and, of course, Vanderbilt upsetting Florida in Week 12 — in team meetings on Sunday, emphasizing the need for cohesion in a sport that seems to lack it more than ever.

He shared his belief with reporters on Monday that the changing dynamics in recruiting, transfer and general roster attrition have created challenges for programs to maintain stability. 

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Florida has certainly endured turnover this year, losing 27 scholarship players from the 2021 season due to transfer, draft declaration, graduation or other reasons before Week 1 and another eight due to imminent transfer or dismissal since.

It has also inarguably been an inconsistent team in 2022, a season with highs such as the upset over formerly No. 7 Utah in Napier's debut and the road victory over Texas A&M, as well as lows like losses to Kentucky and LSU at home and Vanderbilt in Tennessee.

As a first-year SEC head coach in this era of college football, how does Napier envision Florida restabilizing for the first time since the 2000s? 

"I think for our team it's handling success and handling failure, remaining steady and consistent with our approach, our mentality, our thought process, our methods relative to getting our team ready to play, as members of the organization but also as individual players," he explained. "I think we live in a time where you just see a lot of inconsistency."

The loss to Vanderbilt may not indicate it, but Napier has suggested since Florida's second-half comeback attempt against the Bulldogs and the wins over the Aggies and Gamecocks to follow that the team is making strides in these areas. 

He reiterated confidence in his approach to developing those qualities in each player entering Week 13, a process he trusts will turn Florida football around.

"I told our team this yesterday — I really have confidence in the work that we did throughout the week, but when the ball's spotted and the first play begins, you got to go earn the right to win, and you've got to go execute, you've got to do your job. There's hundreds of people that contribute to that in this game, and I think that's the challenge, right?

"That's what I love about the game, is the leadership challenge that comes with getting the organization and the team to perform on a consistent basis." 

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