Disappointing Units Want Redemption In Bowl

After years of excellent performances, Ohio State's defense and Florida's offense had tough 2011 campaigns. Both ended poorly, too, as the Buckeyes gave up 40 points against Michigan and the Gators were held to a single touchdown in a loss to Florida State. Both think they can make up for rough years, though, in Monday's Gator Bowl.

It's not exactly a battle of the stoppable force vs. the movable object, but the Gator Bowl will match up two units that didn't perform to expectations in 2011.

Those would be the Florida offense and the Ohio State defense, two units that mere months ago were among the best in the country at their respective crafts.

That wasn't the case this year as neither lived up to the lofty reputations created by their predecessors, but the Jan. 2 postseason contest provides the pair of units a chance to put a positive spin on disappointing campaigns.

"I think that would be really good," sophomore defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "We're going to give it our all and see how it goes."

Numerically, Ohio State's defense had the better season of the two. The Buckeyes actually finished with solid numbers nationally, as the team's scoring defense placed 26th at 20.8 points allowed and the total defense with 24th at 328.6 yards given up.

However, both numbers placed sixth in the 12-team Big Ten, and Ohio State gave up 20 points or more in seven contests. The low point came Nov. 26 against rival Michigan when the Wolverines put 40 on the board against the banged-up Buckeyes.

A major problem has been consistency, linebacker Etienne Sabino explained before pointing to a 34-27 loss to Nebraska on Oct. 8. In that contest, OSU kept the Huskers' attack to seven points in the opening half then gave up touchdowns on four of five drives to see a 27-6 lead disappear.

"I think we had a lot of glimpses of being dominant and being good," Sabino said. "The one that stands out to me, I would say Nebraska. In the first half, I think we played great, then whatever happened, we let up. I think vs. Michigan State (a 10-7 loss) we played good at points as well.

"There's a lot of points I think in every game about to say we've done good, but we just haven't put together a whole game of just being dominant."

On paper, the Buckeyes might be able to go out on the right foot against a Florida offense that has been just as off-and-on. The Gators have 33 points or more in five games, all wins, but were kept to 12 points or fewer in the same number of contests, all losses.

Still, offensive tackle Chaz Green said he thinks the Gators have a chance to break out in the Gator Bowl.

"We have a chance of that every game," Green said. "It just depends if we're executing or not, but we go into every game confident and I feel like we're going to be successful. It hasn't happened a few games, but speaking for myself, I have to start for me, get better, keep working on my technique. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and just keep improving."

He has a few Ohio State players who would tend to agree with him based on their public comments. Despite the fact Florida is 101st in the country in yards per game and 71st in scoring, the Buckeye stop troops have gone out of their way to praise the offense led by oft-injured signal caller John Brantley.

"They have some big-time guys," OSU linebacker Andrew Sweat said. "When their offense clicks, they're going to be extremely hard to stop. Although the stats and numbers say that, on film those guys are faster than anyone I've seen on film."

Ahh, yes. The speed. Florida's supposed advantage when it comes to foot speed was discussed in the lead-up to the 2006 national title game, and the idea gained steam when the Gators romped to a 41-14 victory in that contest.

And as good as that Florida team was, this year's squad might be faster. Running back Chris Rainey boasts top-flights speed, while backfield cohort Jeff Demps has won three NCAA titles as a sprinter including the 60-meter dash at the 2011 NCAA indoor meet.

To Heacock, the key is to get those guys stopped before they get started. That has been a problem this year as the Buckeyes have given up more big runs than in recent years thanks to poor pursuit angles taken by its banged-up linebackers and young safeties, but the 16-year OSU assistant sees progress in that regard during bowl practice.

"Pursuit angles are so critical," Heacock said. "That's the name of the game. That's what we've had a little bit too much of this year. I think that's the one area where we've (most struggled); we've probably given up too many big plays. We've had a few too many, and when you look back at the pursuit angles, we haven't taken the right course at times. Hopefully we're getting better at it."

The end result given 12 games of experience for both teams is that both units have shown they have potential but neither has been consistent. The one that puts it together for the longest time in the Gator Bowl will likely be the one to emerge victorious.

"It's probably a stable of things that have gone wrong (for them)," Sweat said. "Maybe not at the same time, but when they're clicking they're a great offense. I think they're explosive and we're preparing to stop them."

Sabino, for one, thinks it can be done.

"We know what we can do," he said.

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