Florida Puts On Historical Performance

Jan. 9, 2007

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com



Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball. E-mail here!

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Oh they had us fooled for a while. In fact, for a gallant 16 seconds of play, Ohio State lived up to the greatest billing. Amazingly, almost brazenly, Florida kicked off to Mr. Ginn. The mercurial one did his best beep-beep act and put Florida in a 7-0 hole.


But it was clear from the game's first offensive snap tonight, the Gators didn't want to hear any of that Greatest Team talk either. And after one quarter of play, they didn't need to.


"We knew it would be important to get in an early rhythm." Quarterback Chris Leak said after going 8-for-8 to open the game. "We were able to hit on all cylinders and get everybody comfortable."


Color that an understatement. Everything worked. At least on offense and defense.


But Urban Meyer didn't want this to be the same old Florida team either. In a clear, definitive statement, it's obvious that Meyer used the ridiculously long layoff to put together the perfect gameplan. Mixing up all different types of alignments and using multiple quarterbacks in multiple directions, the Gators ran OSU's defense dizzy on two quick, short-field drives in the first quarter, going 46 yards in seven plays on drive number one. And 34 yards on five plays on drive number two.


"When we allowed the kick to be returned and getting that facemask penalty - that was big. That allowed them not to be under the gun and down 7-0," OSU coach Jim Tressel would say. "We really didn't do things you need to do to be a champion tonight."


It didn't just look easy for Florida, it really was. I noticed that Meyer did what Texas did early in the year. They went wide, around, in circuitous fashion to some level of success. Reverses, pitchouts, out-patterns and the occasional down-the-seam throw - that's how UT moved the ball on OSU as well. Only, the Horns quit doing that and had some bad turnovers. Florida would not make that mistake.


"We wanted to come out and attack. We didn't want to hold anything back." Leak explained. "The line did an excellent job up front handling the pressure. We were able to control what we wanted to do."


The usually mistake-free Buckeyes helped out considerably by letting each drive start with a big penalty, facemasking on the first kick return and a dumb post-play personal foul penalty on their first punt return of the night.


Sure the Florida defense was on lock-down mode all game. Like extreme lock-down mode. I'm talking 82 total yards allowed lock-down. But let's face it, the Buckeyes kept putting buckshot into their feet with bad penalties and uncharacteristic play as well. In the first quarter alone, OSU quarterback Troy Smith was sacked, harried, pressured and throwing off his back foot time and again. The result was OSU had 11 yards of offense and Florida, utilizing repeated short fields, had 149. One play into the second quarter it was a two touchdown lead.


When asked if his defensive mates had Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith rattled, D-End Jarvis Moss barked "Yeah, we had him rattled. Early in the game he was smiling and all, trying to make it look like he wasn't bothered. But we knew if we kept pressuring him, it was just a matter of time before it started to show."


The decorated Smith ended the night an incredible 4-for-14 for 35 yards and 29 yards lost in sacks.


Then Moss grinned slightly, amidst the flying confetti, saying, "I didn't see him smile much after a while."


It was Florida senior Chris Leak who did the most smiling. The maligned one ended the night 25-for-36 for and efficient 213 yards.


"I can't say enough about him," Urban Meyer boasted in the post-game. "I guess he and I are going to be attached at the hip in history after this game, aren't we?"


Credit Meyer's knack for innovation on offense there. The Gators finished with 370 yards. But more importantly, Uof F was 7-of-10 on third down in the first half. The direct correlation to the 20-point lead can be attributed right to that.


When it came time for OSU to do something creative - anything creative - it was met with the substantial teeth of the Gator defense. Ohio State faced a 4th-and-inches from its own 30 with 3:30 left in the first half. A straight handoff up the middle to Chris Wells went exactly nowhere. Florida ball. Four plays later, the blue and orange added another three to make it 27-14 with 1:53 left.


With Ted Ginn nursing a sore ankle, OSU's pride already well-bruised and Florida still flying all over the field on defense, Troy Smith made his most egregious error, not on the night, but perhaps in his career. When pressured, he zigged when he should've zagged. Forgoing a wide-open left side of the field, Smith cut right out of the pocket and was smacked from behind, fumbling at his own 14. Florida would parlay that mistake with a Tim Tebow touchdown pass with 23 seconds left in the half.




But OSU head coach Jim Tressel wasn't ready to bury Troy Smith for the Bucks' shortcomings.


"I think we put Troy in a situation that was tough from a scheme standpoint. Our goal as coaches is to put our players in the best situations with what's been given to them. And it all starts from the effort of the coaches. We gave him a lot to burden," he said.


The third quarter was barely necessary. The fourth quarter was just window dressing to the Florida Gator Nation party. And did they deserved to or what? This was a 1997 Sugar Bowl redux. Except this time the victim was one of those "Greatest of all time" teams many didn't give them much chance against.


But Mr. Moss definitely had a message afterward.


"When you think about the type of season we had and the kind of schedule we play, when you break it down, we played tough teams all season long," he said. "It was crazy that nobody gave us a chance tonight."


Meanwhile, Mr. Smith addressed his own teammates in the only way he's shown all year long, with a good semblance of dignity.


"I want to apologize to all my teammates and especially the seniors," he said. "I think I could've played better."


When asked about how this was the first time his team didn't play big in a big game, Smith stayed almost predictably humble.


"I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason. You're not going to be able to have a storybook ending all the time. That's life. This really makes you grow up," he said.


Coach Meyer remained complimentary of Ohio State in the post-game. But he admitted that some of his teams' motivation came from the media's gloss of OSU and the air of disrespect for his boys.


"Our coaches and players, we've got a bunch of hard-working guys.  I try not to pay attention to the hype, but if you start messing around with people's pride... we've been watching it for 30 days now too. It wasn't hard to get this team motivated after 30 days of that."


History will show this was a smackdown of epic proportions. The kind of which may make some people proclaim Florida as the greatest team of all-time, right? Okay, maybe not.


That show is being saved for unbeaten Boise State I'm sure.


Game notes:

Doesn't anybody here remember Astro-turf?

On the drive over from L.A. this morning, I heard a radio commercial for - brace yourself here - a product called "astro-turf." Yes, there was actually a radio ad for the knee-wrecking junk. It started out re-playing the scene of Franco Harris' "Immaculate reception." At the end, the radio announcer said (I'm paraphrasing here), "That was another great moment in football history made on astro-turf. Wait until you see how much more history will be made... on astro-turf." Are you kidding me? What, is the Astro-dome going to be re-opened for football too?


University of Phoenix Stadium: The good.

- Instead of wedging a new stadium into some cruddy area of downtown where you fear for your life and the safety of where your car is parked, I'll give Phoenix/Glendale a lot of credit, this place is stuck waaaaaaay out beyond the suburbs. So there's no problem finding parking, or worrying about any ne'er-do-wells "defending their turf" during your visit to the stadium.

- Everything is new. And everything is, of course, first class. Nice, comfy seats. Really good sightlines. Good concessions. The works.

- Getting in and out of the area is easy. Again, because of location, no major traffic jams that force you to sit in your car for hours, in a glacier-speed jam.

- Grass field. For an indoor stadium, you've got to love the technology of being able to have the field be a grass field that can be outside for watering and sunlight when not in use.

- Beer. Unlike college games throughout the season, the stadium offers the sale of beer during the game. (Okay, not to the press corps, but if I wanted one, I can pay four bucks.)


University of Phoenix Stadium: The bad.

- First off, from the outside, the stadium looks like a giant, metallic-covered loaf of bread.

- Sterility. Since it's all new and a pro park, there's no collegiate feel to it whatsoever. This shouldn't be what college football is about. Let's just all agree to go back to Sun Devil Stadium. Okay?

- Loud. Like the Sugar Bowl, an enclosed stadium sure rings your ears with loud fan bases like the ones here tonight. Goodbye cell phone, no use in getting you out tonight.

- Just like a lot of stadiums nowadays, luxury suites and sky boxes are all the rage. But like the Staples Center in downtown L.A., the upper deck of the stadium is situated far back from the playing field. It's not like the upper deck at some stadiums (Ohio State's for example) where the upper deck hangs well over the lower deck, thus putting more people closer to the field.


The fan split

Just estimating from looking around the stadium and the team colors involved, I'd have to say the crowd tonight is about 65-35 in favor of OSU. Must be the want to get out of the cold weather.


Enya in the house

During the pre-game warm-ups, the stadium loudspeakers were playing, among other things, the soothing Irish ingénue, Enya. Interesting, considering the calming effect her multi-layered music has. The thinking there must've been the "calm" before the storm.



The Gator fans started this chant before the kickoff. And rightfully so with tonight's pride-filled 41-14 win. But the Gators fans must not recall that the Big 10 was already 2-0 against the SEC in bowl play, with Penn State beating Tennessee and Wisconsin downing Arkansas.


Nobody asked but...

Can you imagine if there were a World Series or Superbowl held 51 days after the end of the regular season?


When Ginn went gimp

The scuttlebutt from the Ohio State locker room after the game is that Ted Ginn injured his ankle while celebrating the 92-yard kickoff return. Yet in the post-game, Ginn was asked when he tweaked his ankle and he kept saying, "I don't know." Man! What a cruel blow to the Buckeyes that was.


Anybody think about Wisconsin?

With this monumental blowout completed, what one-loss team is the one that got screwed the most this season? Wisconsin. The Badgers went 11-1, beat an SEC team in their bowl game (Arkansas) and had a wicked defense too. Only problem was the Big 11 schedule-maker. Because they never got their chance at Ohio State, Wisconsin's road to the national championship was merely a sidewalk along the way.


Okay Coach McMahon, you're turn.

So Florida has now won the basketball national championship and the football national championship. How does the Gators' baseball team look? Well, last spring, while the roundballers were making their run, Uof F's baseball team was picked to win the SEC and was pre-season No. 2 (they were runner-ups in 2005). But they stumbled over their press clipping and rash of injuries and didn't even make the NCAA tournament field. This year the Gators are armed to do much more. Coach Pat McMahon has most of his firepower back, including Brian LeClerq and Matt LaPorta, who both turned down pro baseball offers to return to Gainesville. So we'll see.



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