How the Florida Gators beat Ohio State.

The stadium scene.
Jan. 9 2007 12:22 PM

Urban Renewal

The Florida Gators and their genius coach maul Ohio State.

Florida Gators. Click image to expand.
Florida Gators players celebrate

Both coaches in last night's BCS Championship game, Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Florida's Urban Meyer, grew up in Ohio, in the shadow of Woody Hayes. But only Meyer has shrugged off the spell of three yards and a cloud of dust and embraced his inner mad scientist. Meyer's innovative spread offense and a tyrannical Florida defense that held Ohio State to a microscopic 82 yards of offense keyed a shocking 41-14 rout of the supposedly invincible Buckeyes.

The pregame buzzword was speed, and Florida definitely made the Buckeyes look like they were wearing anchor chains. More important than mere speed was scheme, and how Florida used all those burners. Meyer deploys a fleet of quick players to engage the defense, spread the field, and keep the other team off-balance and unsure of itself. As Fox analyst Charles Davis aptly put it, "cloudy minds equal slow feet." OSU looked slow because Florida's multiple formations and plethora of playmaking options made the defense have to react rather than attack. So fearful were the Buckeyes of Meyer's ability to get his burners one-on-one with slower defenders that they played a conservative zone all night, and were slowly bled to death.

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This Ohio State team was really an unusual product. Tressel's standard approach to the game might be called "Punt Your Way to Victory"—play for field position, concentrate on defense and turnovers, and find a way to win the game in the dying minutes. That's how the coach fondly known to rivals as CheatyPants SweaterVest won a championship in 2002-2003 (with the considerable aid of referee myopia).

This season Tressel abandoned his usual style, thanks to the dynamic duo of quarterback Troy Smith and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. All looked well for the Buckeyes when Ginn returned the game's opening kickoff for a stunning score. But he left the game for good soon after with a sprained foot, and Smith turned in a forgettable performance, becoming the latest in a long line of Heisman Trophy winners to struggle in their final game. (Troy Smith, meet Jason White.)

Folks in Columbus will argue that the loss of Ted Ginn, his favorite target, left Smith unfairly handicapped. But Ginn doesn't block, and the game was decided up front—by Florida's front four, specifically ends Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss. Harvey turned in the game's definitive play in the opening quarter, hurling an offensive tackle five yards backward and running down the fleet-footed Smith from behind for a sack. Ginn couldn't have saved the Buckeyes, because Smith never had a chance to drop back and throw a deep pass. Strangely, Tressel never went to draws or screens, jujitsu plays designed to slow the upfield rush off the edge. There was a glimmer of this on the Buckeyes' lone TD drive, which pulled them to 21-14 early in the second quarter, but it never returned as Florida pulled further ahead.

After the basketball team cut down the nets last spring, Florida is now the first school to pull off the (Division 1-A) grid-hoops double dip. The football Gators' run to glory was similar to that of their hardwood counterparts. Both teams underachieved during the regular season, failing to pick up any style points during conference play. But when the postseason arrived, both turned it up a few notches and blew away their opponents with breathtaking displays of speed and power.