Gator Bowl SvoNotebook: Buckeyes Healthy Now

Ohio State's defense has had a rough year as injuries and inexperience have led to more struggles than the Buckeyes are used to, but defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said the Buckeyes are close to full health now. In addition, Florida's offense is in flux while Tyler Moeller is the only player left from the 2006 meeting of Gator Bowl participants.

Jim Heacock had a tough 2011 as his Ohio State defense failed to finish in the top six in the nation in scoring as it had in each of his first six seasons in charge.

Given his druthers, the No. 1 thing it appears Heacock would have changed was the health of his unit.

The Buckeyes lost Nathan Williams – who was expected to play a key role as both a Sam linebacker and a rush end – after the opening game to knee surgery then watched as a number of defensive stalwarts were banged up the rest of the season.

The good news, then, is Heacock said things are trending upward finally heading into Monday's Gator Bowl against Florida.

"We're about as healthy as we've been for four or five games, probably," Heacock said. "We're banged up a little – we have some guys in the back end that are marginal as far as playing – but I think we feel pretty good."

Heacock said that junior Orhian Johnson, a safety who began the year as a starter before becoming a key part of the nickel defense, hasn't done a whole lot of work, but most of the other injured players at the end of the regular campaign should be ready to go.

That means linebacker Andrew Sweat (head, shoulder) and safety Christian Bryant (undisclosed), both of whom missed the Michigan game, should be able to play. Ryan Shazier injured a knee against Michigan but said he's 85 to 90 percent and wasn't wearing yellow in Thursday's practice.

"Some of those linebackers are back and it's good to see a little depth at that position," Heacock said.

With Shazier and Sweat ready to go, that throws OSU's linebacker spot into flux, but junior Etienne Sabino said he, Shazier, Sweat and Storm Klein are taking turns at each spot.

"As of right now, we're all playing a little bit of everything," Sabino said. "I've been playing Sam, I've been playing a little bit of Mike, so a little bit of everything right now. We're all in the rotation. I'm not sure (where I'll be) but I'll be in there somewhere."

In other injury updates, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is wearing a knee brace but said the late-season ding he suffered is no big deal.

"It doesn't really hurt," he said. "You just take some precaution. (The brace) doesn't bother me too much. I don't think I look too sweet in it, that's about it."

No Weis Is Nice
Florida's offense struggled this year, finishing in the bottom half of the country in both yards and points under first-year offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

The Gators, who famously ran a spread offense under former coach Urban Meyer, moved to more of a pro-style attack under Weis, which caught senior safety Tyler Moeller off guard.

"Really, I didn't watch Florida the whole year, and I was surprised about their new offensive scheme," he said. "I was thinking it was more of a spread team, but they're really a pro-style team. They like to pound the ball, run a lot of regular."

Florida offensive tackle Chaz Green said the team is comfortable now in that system after running it for a year, but the Gator Bowl will require adjustment now that Weis has taken the head coaching job at Kansas.

Running backs coach Brian White will coordinate the team's offense during the game, but Green doesn't expect things to change that much on the field. Off the field, White has brought a more enthusiastic coaching style as well.

"We run a lot of the same offense but he put a couple of wrinkles in," Green said. "He's a more vocal guy, more up-tempo, so that's more fun. We like the tempo in practice a whole lot more. He's always cracking jokes and whatnot in the media room. You can't even explain it, you have to witness it for yourself."

Hankins said Ohio State is preparing as though things won't change that much for the Gators.

"I know they're probably going to be in their power and do what they think they can do to beat us," he said. "I think they might keep it simple for them since Weis is gone. We're going to be ready for what they have."

Revenge Angle Cold
Of course, the Gator Bowl is Ohio State's first chance to see the Gators since that fateful night in the Arizona desert when Florida dominated OSU by a 41-14 score to capture the BCS national championship.

The schools have met on the basketball court a few times – OSU won both this year and last year but lost in the '07 national title contest – but the schools' second meeting ever on the gridiron still carries strong memories for both schools and fan bases.

But there are precious few people related to each team's football programs that still remember that night in Glendale. Both teams have new head coaches, and the only Ohio State player still on the roster from 2006 is Moeller.

Moeller redshirted that year and did not play in the title game, and he said this game isn't about revenge for him.

"We're a different team," he said. "You sometimes do look at it like they beat us pretty bad, but to me, it's a new team and it's six years, five years later. I'm focused on this team now and not the team that played in '06 because there's no guys from that team except me."

Ohio State might have gotten the last laugh, though – the Buckeyes just hired Meyer, the Ohioan who led Florida to that national title and one other in 2008.


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