Drowned out in the noise from the field as the Florida Gators were putting on a clinic in how to dispel a myth Monday night was the sound of collective jaws dropping in the press box. There were a few writers and broadcasters that believed Florida would win the game, but the vast majority saw it for Ohio State and thought a Buckeye runaway would be an appropriate ending.
The invincible Buckeyes looked like the guy that shows up at a black tie dinner wearing overalls and rubber boots. If ever a team looked so out of place on the big national stage, it was Ohio State. Florida, meanwhile, looked like a million bucks. The Gators had an answer for everything in an Ohio State game plan that couldn’t compensate for the speed advantage that Florida had at nearly every position. Before Ted Ginn Jr. went down with an injury, he might have been the only Buckeye on the field that was faster than the Gator on the other side but as we saw time and time again during this magic 13-1 Florida season, one man isn’t going to beat this Florida team.
The ease in which Florida so methodically disposed of Ohio State had the media wondering how it was that this myth of Buckeye superiority got started in the first place. Florida wasn’t just the fastest team out on that field. The Gators were the best coached and they certainly were the hungriest team.
But if you had read USAToday Monday morning, you would have thought the Gators were in for the beating of their lives. In their “expert analysis” of the game, the crack staff of USAToday said the Gators were even at linebacker and had a better secondary, but at every other position, Ohio State was given a superior grade.
Coaching? The USAToday staff said Ohio State was the better staff and would be the better coached, better prepared team coming into the game.
Predictions? Of their 12 writers covering the game, only Kelly Whiteside predicted Florida would win.
“Did you see what USAToday wrote about my guys?” Greg Mattison asked me in the midst of the on-field celebration after the Gators had done a Sledge-O-Matic on the Ohio State myth to the tune of 41-14.
Mattison coaches the Florida defensive line and he does it so well that Urban Meyer will tell anyone that will listen he is the best at what he does in the entire country.
USAToday said that the Ohio State defensive line was better than Florida’s and that the Ohio State offensive line would manhandle the Florida defensive line.
Those were fighting words to Mattison. He took them personally.
Very, very personally.
So did his team.
“I wonder what they think now?” Mattison asked me. “They’re better than us? Did any of them watch any film on us? Did anyone see my guys play this year? Did anyone pay attention to what we had done?”
Mattison challenged his front four to step up their game and show the nation just how disrespected they felt on the field. They responded with a butt-kicking performance that turned Heisman Trophy-winner quarterback Troy Smith — the guy that was supposed to single-handedly shred the Florida defense with the ease of a sushi chef on uppers — into college football’s great impostor. Troy Smith may be college football’s best player when he’s going against the likes of Michigan or Northwestern, but against a defense that knew what it was doing, he was Jethro Bodine.
Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss made Ohio State tackles Alex Boone and Kirk Barton look like they wore concrete boots and swam with the fishes along with Luca Brasi.
In the middle of the line, Joe Cohen and Ray McDonald dominated the Buckeye guards T.J. Downing and Steve Rehring and Steven Harris made Ohio State center Doug Datish his own personal boy toy.
Folks, it wasn’t pretty, and the stats bear it out. Ohio State managed 35 passing yards and 47 rushing yards. Florida sacked Smith five times for 51 yards and pressured him into more mistakes in one game than he made all season. The Gators spent so much time in the Ohio State backfield that the only thing missing were the toreador caps, jackets and capes on those matadors that masqueraded as offensive linemen.
If you taped the game, watch what happened on Ohio State’s first big running play of the second half. That pretty much tells you the Florida game plan. Steven Harris ran a stunt into the gap between Datish and Rehring. He shot through the hole so quickly that fullback Stan White Jr. had to come over and help.
Yep, those three guys blocked Steven Harris all right. Because it took three of them to get Florida’s version of the raging bull roped and tied down, Brandon Siler, Earl Everett and Jarvis Moss were left all and unblocked. They greeted Ohio State tailback Antonio Pittman rather rudely. They did everything but an airplane spin and a sleeper hold before they body slammed him to the turf for a four-yard loss.
When Pittman hit the ground, the air you heard escaping from his lungs was matched by the gasp emitted by some 55,000 Buckeye fans, groaning in unison. They were dead in the water and they knew it. The Buckeye myth was exposed and Florida defensive line was the reason.
Florida’s game plan wasn’t all that sophisticated. Basically, the Gators just kept lining up Harris in the gap between the center and the guard. Datish proved just like he did in the Illinois game that he’s all hype, no substance. If that’s the All-America center, then Florida’s Steven Rissler needs to hop a plane to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl.
Datish had to have help on every play which meant that White had to stay in the middle instead of helping the tackles with the Florida ends. With Harris doubled, White had to stay at home in the middle because Ohio State couldn’t afford to leave Florida middle linebacker Brandon Siler all alone in the middle.
White never did block Siler. That’s because Siler didn’t have to blitz. White spent his day trying to help the double team on Harris or helping try to contain Joe Cohen or Ray McDonald and that left Harvey and Moss to chase down Smith.
“We watched the film,” said Harris. “We didn’t think they could handle us. We didn’t think they had anyone quick enough to handle us.”
It all started with Harris, who set the tone in the middle of the field. He was the first domino that got all the other dominoes to fall.
“He’s a great player … and a great young man,” said Mattison. “I’ll say it now. He’s a great player. It’s been a pleasure coaching Steven Harris. He’s turned his life around. He’s a college graduate. He’s going to get a chance to play at the next level. I’m so proud of him.”
Harris just took it all in stride with a grin.
“I just did my job and all our other guys did their job,” he said. “That’s what teams are all about. We’re just a fast, good team that does our job and doesn’t care who gets the glory long as we win. That’s why our team won the national championship tonight.”