Florida 41, Ohio State 14
In the days before the BCS national championship game, the Florida players tried to alert the college football world to the notion that few outside their locker room understood or would even acknowledge.
“A lot of things had to happen for us to be here in Arizona, playing for this,” defensive end Jarvis Moss said last week. “Everything happens for a reason. This is a very special team. I can feel it, and everybody associated with our program can feel it.”
All along, the Gators believed they would win the game that many felt they should not be in, and on Monday, their thoughts became powerful deeds.
Florida overwhelmed top-ranked, unbeaten Ohio State at University of Phoenix Stadium, 41-14, for the school’s second national championship.
“I’d like to thank all those people who said that we shouldn’t be here,” coach Urban Meyer said. “The motivational speech wasn’t that hard. I don’t want to say it was a lack of respect, but that’s what it was. Our guys heard that stuff for 30 days, and you start messing with their pride.
“Our guys responded by playing hard.”
How aligned were the stars for the Gators (13-1)? Embattled kicker Chris Hetland, 1-for-10 outside 30 yards coming into the game, was true from 40 and 43 yards, a season long.
However, second-ranked Florida’s perfect astronomy was hardly the stuff of chance. Its own stars shone blindingly bright.
“Everybody stepped up,” defensive end Derrick Harvey said. “It took a lot of time and preparation to be able to stop a team that is as good as Ohio State. We came out and played as hard as we could, and that is why we’re national champs.”
The Gators’ speed on defense — especially from Moss, Harvey and the secondary — held OSU’s offense to a season-low 82 yards and made Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith a hesitant, unsure quarterback.
“We played Gator 'D’,” linebacker Brandon Siler said. “We’ve played it all year, but nobody wanted to give us credit. Well, 14 points tells the story. Now, people have to give us credit.”
The Gators’ spread offense executed flawlessly, with a dizzying array of passes, counter runs and reverses, operated by three quarterbacks. The primary signal caller, senior Chris Leak, culminated his sometimes-turbulent career with ultimate vindication.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” said Leak, who was 25 of 36 for 213 yards and a touchdown. “My dream was to get the University of Florida back on this stage. When you work hard on the field and do the right things, go to class and graduate, your hard work will pay off. Our time came for all of us.”
The Buckeyes (12-1) electrified the crowd of 74,628 when Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. However, that was as good as it got for OSU, which saw its 19-game winning streak end.
Meyer’s team responded to the score by Ginn, who missed much of the game with a leg injury, with authority. Led by Leak, who completed his first nine passes, Florida’s first three possessions ended in touchdowns, two of which came on short fields thanks to Buckeye special-teams personal fouls.
The uncharacteristic mistakes set the tone for a night in which OSU belied its reputation as a well-prepared, big-game performer. Smith was 4-of-14 passing for 35 yards and was sacked five times, three by Harvey and two by Moss.
“I didn’t manage the game very well,” Smith said. “Florida did some things on defense, but it wasn’t anything that we shouldn’t have been able to handle. I didn’t do a good job responding to it.”
The Gators earned 10 late second-quarter points off OSU miscues. Hetland’s second field goal came after the Buckeyes failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at their own 29. On OSU’s next offensive play, Moss engulfed Smith and forced a fumble, UF recovered on the 5 and scored a touchdown on a 1-yard pass from backup quarterback Tim Tebow to Andre Caldwell.
That made the score 34-14 at halftime. Florida — the first school to hold Division I-A men’s basketball and football championships simultaneously — spent the second half protecting the lead.
“We didn’t get it done across the board,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “Not Troy or this player or any one player. Ohio State didn’t get it done.”
The victory guaranteed Florida the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today (coaches) poll. The Gators also topped The Associated Press rankings.
OSU’s loss left Fiesta Bowl champion Boise State as the nation’s lone unbeaten team, leaving the door open for the Broncos to finish first in the AP poll. But Meyer — who late in the season was accused of campaigning to get the Gators into the title game — felt no need for a sales job on Monday.
His team had made a convincing pitch on the field.
“We have a lot of respect for Boise State, so I’m not getting into that,” Meyer said, smiling. “We’re done. We’re good.”
When Ted Ginn Jr. took the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, the prevailing thought was “The rout is on.” But Florida responded with a seven-play, 46-yard drive that ended with Chris Leak’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Baker. And, then, the rout really was on — for the Gators.
Stats that matter
Ohio State, which came into the game averaging 409.8 yards per game, was
held to 82 by the Gators, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith
completed just 4-of-14 passes for 35 yards and threw an interception. Florida held a stunning 40:48 to 19:12 advantage in time of possession.
Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin played quarterback on occasion, rushed for 22 yards and a touchdown, and caught nine passes for 60 yards.
“I’ve thought of my mother every day, and I know she’s by my side. She’ll still be the only mother I’ll ever have, and I wanted to play to make her proud.” — Florida safety Reggie Nelson, whose mother, Mary Lakes, died of cancer on Dec. 21.