From the time the clowns who run the BCS announced the Gators would get to play OSU for the National Championship the national perception has been UF was a long shot at best to challenge OSU for supremacy in college football. In the four weeks that have followed those pundits have begin to hedge their bets somewhat; focusing on the long layoff more than the relative merits of the two squads.
It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Florida plays more ranked teams and more bowl teams than any other school in America. Ohio State played just two teams in the final BCS top 25 (Florida played four) and neither Michigan (blowout loser to Southern Cal) nor Texas (two-point winner over 6-and-7 Iowa) were overly impressive in their post-season appearances.
I’m not saying Ohio State is not a good team, they are. 11-and-0 can’t be denied and the Buckeyes have some of the best talent the Gators will have seen this year. Ohio State has allowed just one opponent (Michigan, 39) to score more than 17 points while scoring at least 24 points in all but one game (17, Illinois) this year. They have great run/pass balance on offense and defense. They have intercepted 21 passes this season, helping the Buckeyes to an impressive plus-eleven in turnover differential. In addition, their punter is solid, their place kicker is very good and they have one of the nation’s most dangerous return men in Ted Ginn Jr.
Still, there’s no question that Florida belongs on the same field and has an excellent chance to win the BCS National Title Monday night. As is usually the case in big games, this one will come down to a few key areas and match up situations. Here’s my take on the most important factors in the game.
1. Play from ahead —– Ohio State has not had to play catch up all year long. The Buckeyes have not trailed by more than seven points at any point in any game. In fact only once did they trail (by 3) at halftime. Florida on the other hand knows all about comebacks, tough games and nerve wracking fourth quarters. It’s crucial that the Gators force the Buckeyes to look at the scoreboard with some cause for concern and the earlier the better.
2. Control Quinn Pitcock —– The Ohio State defensive tackle is the best I have seen on video this year and poses a huge challenge for the Gators up front. Pitcock is the biggest reason linebacker Jim Laurinaitis, a good player is viewed by many as a great one. Florida doesn’t want to have to double-team # 90 all night long, but if they must, they must. Pitcock is not only a force in controlling the middle; he provides an outstanding pass rush up the middle with eight sacks.
3. Get DeShawn Wynn running —– Percy Harvin is Florida’s big play threat, but DeShawn Wynn can keep defenses honest with a strong effort. He’s had a month to get healthy and be ready for a career-defining moment against his home state team.
4. Keep Troy Smith in the pocket —– The Heisman Trophy winner is a very good pocket passer, but he excels at turning nothing into something when he leaves the pocket. He’s not a great runner, but he’s good enough to avoid pressure and improvise. Against Michigan he was unreal, hitting 29-of-41 for 316 yards and four touchdowns. He was almost as good against Texas. His worst game came against Illinoize when the Fightin’ Zookers kept pressure on him all afternoon.
5. Block a kick —– The Gators would not be in this game if not for their kick blocking prowess which resulted in eight blocks this year. Ohio State has had a couple of kicks rejected this season, so the opportunity is there.
6. Remember Mr. Ingram —– Cornelius Ingram has been a big factor for the Gators in recent games and I don’t believe Ohio State can cover him with a linebacker. Forcing Buckeyes strong safety Brandon Mitchell to stay with Ingram should open up some things in the middle of the field. Get him involved early and often to force better match up opportunities.
So that’s my six pack of keys for the Monday night showdown in Arizona. Three of six makes it a tossup. Executing four or more should bring the championship back to Gainesville. Of course if either team is minus-three in turnovers – as Ohio State was against Michigan – then everything else could well be irrelevant.