Photo: Anthony Richardson and O'Cyrus Torrence; Credit: Alex Shepherd
The Florida Gators turned the page on the tumultuous 2021 season a short time ago with little intention to reread it.
However, as they hit the road for the first time in 2022, it's hard not to think back to the game at Kroger Field in Lexington (Ky.) that kickstarted the downfall of the previous regime.
The undisciplined nature of the program became a glaring issue as communication (or lack thereof) in the face of the raucous environment resulted in troubling self-inflicted wounds against Kentucky. Accounting for 15 penalties and 115 yards — eight of which came in the form of procedural errors offensively (false starts) — the Gators dropped a crucial game to the Wildcats, 20-13, starting the troubling spiral to 6-7.
Now, as the Gators travel to another hostile environment to take on the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers in Rocky Top, the emphasis on combatting the near 110,000 fanatics in attendance is doing the opposite of their meltdown on the road a season ago.
According to Gators' elite-caliber left guard O'Cyrus Torrence, they must communicate at a high level.
"Making sure that we are on the same page," Torrence explained on Monday. "Not just verbally, but like signals-wise, like making sure we're doing the right-hand signals and stuff because it's going to be loud, and we're not going to be able to hear each other all the time.
"So, making sure the running backs and quarterbacks are on the same page protection-wise and in the run plays, like with the MIKE [linebacker], and like when the box moves, making sure everybody on the O-line sees, even the tight ends because they're a part of it too. So, making sure we're all on the same page from that standpoint, I feel like it will help us out a lot with the noise and stuff."
The importance of establishing an identity of discipline is a major focal point in year one of the Napier era. Since he first arrived at Florida in December, he's harped on that area needing drastic improvement. Through three games, the Gators have done relatively well in accomplishing that goal, ranking No. 15 in fewest penalty yards per game (38, 114 in total) and tied for 33rd in fewest penalties per game (5.33, 16 total).
Now, the Gators' first road outing to show their growth in that area from the abysmal outing against Kentucky a year ago is here as they enter a rival territory with expectations of a deafening crowd.
Torrence, in particular, is relatively inexperienced in playing in front of large, opposing crowds due to his three years at Lousiana-Lafayette.
He recalled the Sun Belt Championship contest against Appalachian State in 2021 as the largest crowd he's performed in front of — which had an attendance of just 31,014 fans — before being reminded of a trip to Texas in September 2021, an audience of 91,000 people. The Ragin' Cajuns responded well to the atmosphere, committing just five penalties for 25 yards.
However, the trip to Knoxville will be an incompatible beast to conquer.
"It's going to be different. It's going to be a challenge for sure, but I feel like, if we stay focused in there, we know what we can do, like communicate well and like stay on the same page and don't shoot ourselves in the foot too much," he said. "We feel like we'll be good, and we can handle the crowd and control the noise pretty well."
Starting quarterback Anthony Richardson, who also hasn't seen a crowd as jam-packed as expected in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, echoed Torrence's sentiment that he is prepared for the environment.
"Whoa, that's a lot of people," Richardson said. "I'm ready for it."
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