National Title Showdown: Buckeyes vs. Gators

Ohio State and Florida will meet for the first time ever Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz., for the national championship. The Buckeyes will come in as strong favorites, but how do the two teams match up? We look at each side of the ball for both teams generally and then match up the offenses vs. the defenses, the coaches and then add in some other tidbits. 

Offense:            Big Advantage Ohio State

The knock on Florida all season has been its offense.  Although Urban Meyer came to Gator country known for his proficient offenses, the natives have been restless about the somewhat toothless nature of the Florida attack.  Is this criticism deserved?

A look at the raw numbers would indicate these two teams are closer to each other on offense than most would expect.


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The stats would seem to indicate that Ohio State is more of a running team than Florida and Florida more of a passing team than Ohio State, but that they end up about the same in total yards.  The only clear advantage is to Ohio State in scoring.  But a wise man once said "there are lies, damn lies and statistics" and here, the statistics do not tell the entire story.

One has to remember that in 12 games there were only three where Ohio State did not entire the fourth quarter in complete control — Texas, Penn State and Michigan (even though Illinois made things interesting, OSU was up 17-0 and had gone into conservative shut down mode) — and there was not a single game all season where the OSU offense was forced to play to the final whistle.  As everyone knows, Jim Tressel likes to play conservative and sit on his leads, so there were very few games where the OSU offense was operating on all cylinders for much more than a half to three quarters of the game.  In contrast, Florida had six games that were one possession games at the end (or a loss).  That's a lot of extra "effort" required by the Florida offense and Ohio State still averaged 10 more yards per game. 

Ohio State also has the advantage over Florida at nearly every major offensive position.  At QB, Florida has the two headed monster of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow –Leak is the "Man", Tebow is primarily a direct snap running back whose arm you have to respect.  Ohio State has Heisman Trophy winner to be Troy Smith.  The most important statistic here, Smith has 30 touchdown passes to 5 interceptions.  Leak/Tebow have a healthy 26 TDs, but a more shaky 14 interceptions.  At running back, Ohio State has Antonio Pittman's 1171 yards, backed up by super freshman Chris Wells' 567 yards, whose first carry against Michigan went for many more yards than they averaged allowed for entire games.  Florida runs by committee, led by Ohio native DeShawn Wynn (who Ohio State did not offer) who only had 630 yards on the season.  Their next most prolific runner is backup QB Tebow who had 430 yards, followed by freshman wide receiver speedster Percy Harvin's 406 yards. 

Things are a little tighter at wide receiver, where Florida's senior/junior tandem of Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell have slightly better statistics (if not professional prospects) than Ohio State's Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez.  Florida also has two other wideouts and a tight end with 25+ catches and Percy Harvin is a gamebreaker.  They rarely throw to their running backs.  Ohio State spreads it around more, Brian Robiskie is the clear third option, but four other players have 13 or more catches, and two more have eight receptions.

Ohio State has the advantage at offensive line.  Florida has a solid line that has been respectable this year, but they are 49th in the country in sacks allowed, giving up 22 on the season.  In contrast, Ohio State has one of its best lines ever and is 10th in sacks allowed, giving up a paltry 14 on the season.

Overall, Ohio State has a large edge on offense. 

Defense:           Push

You've heard it all season, Ohio State replaced 9 of 11 starters on defense – and ended up with a statistically better defensive season than last year's NFL laden crew, finishing second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 10.42.  The only team to really score on them all season was Michigan, who exploded for 39 points, or 22 more than anyone else.  Florida?  They are right there with the Buckeyes at sixth in the nation, giving up a paltry 13.46 points per game.

The defenses have different styles.  Ohio State is more of a big play defense, ranked in the Top 10 in sacks, tackles for a loss and turnover margin.  Florida is in the middle of the pack in all of those categories, but has allowed fewer yards per game than Ohio State.  The Gators are led by linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler and defensive end Jarvis Moss and there is no question defense is the strength of their team.

Does Ohio State's defense match-up?  Most likely, but one could make an argument that the OSU defense is overrated.  In reality, they have only played two truly good offenses all season – Texas and Michigan – and Texas still had the training wheels on freshman quarterback Colt McCoy and Michigan lit up the Buckeyes.  However, Ohio State's defense has thoroughly dominated average to bad offenses and Florida's offense is not in the same category as Michigan's or Texas'.

Florida's defense is battle tested and definitely for real.  But it might not matter: Michigan might have the best overall defense in the country and they were little more than a speed bump for the Buckeyes offense.  Florida will need to have the game of its life on defense. 

Special Teams: Advantage Ohio State

Both teams have solid punters and dangerous return men.  The big advantage to Ohio State is in field goal kicking.  Ohio State has two placekickers on the roster with fieldgoals over 50 yards, with main kicker Aaron Pettrey being 8 for 11 on the season with five kicks over 40 yards.  For Florida, Chris Hetland is an awful 4 of 13 on the season, including 1 of 10 beyond 30 yards with a long of 33.  Ouch!

Ohio State offense vs. the Florida defense

Ohio State can do it all on offense, whether it be spreading out five wide, or lining up and playing smash mouth football.  Troy Smith is as versatile a quarterback as college football has seen in a long while, allowing the Buckeye coaching staff the luxury of attacking an opponents weaknesses, rather than having system they have to run.  In big games – Texas, Iowa and Michigan – Ohio State has come out firing early.  Expect the Buckeyes to pass to set-up the run, trying to keep Florida off balance and later in the game trying to grind it out and wear them down.  But if Tressel and Co. see a weakness, they will exploit it until Florida can fix it.  This will be Florida's biggest test of the season and the key for them will be to avoid big plays, make a few of their own, force turnovers and keep Ohio State to field goals.

Florida offense vs. the Ohio State defense

Florida likes to run a spread formation, with three wide receivers and the quarterback in the shotgun.  Leak will take the majority of the snaps, but Tebow will get his share, primarily to run.  He is usually in on third and short.  Florida also likes to mix in non-traditional running, whether it be planned runs from Tebow or reverses to speedster Percy Harvin.  The key for the Ohio State defense will be to stay at home and not get confused by Florida's odd plays (they are not exactly trick plays, but you won't you'll see a lot more non-traditional plays called by Meyer than by most other teams).  Leak has a tendency to wilt under pressure – and Ohio State's front four has been great at bringing pressure all year.  Additionally, Ohio State's speed at linebacker and in the secondary may make it difficult for Tebow and Harvin to break off effective runs to the outside and Florida does not have much of a power running game.  Chris Leak will need to make big plays with arm and avoid any mistakes.

The Coaches

The State of Ohio dominates the coaching match-up in this game.  Jim Tressel, of course, was born and raised in Ohio, played college football in Ohio, and, with the exception of two years coaching quarterbacks at Syracuse, his entire coaching career has been in the State of Ohio.  But did you know that Urban Meyer was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, has a graduate degree from a little school known as The Ohio State University, where he was also an assistant coach and his first head coaching job was heading up Bowling Green?

Jim Tressel has been here before: the 2002 National Championship, four national titles at Youngstown State, three for three in BCS games and 9-2 in Ohio State's "biggest" games (Michigan and bowl games).  For Urban Meyer, this is by far his biggest stage.  He led Utah to a BCS game, but that was against a mediocre Pitt team.  The SEC Championship was big, but this is another level.  Tressel has proved that he is a dangerous coach to give time to prepare for a huge game.  Meyer has not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate that, but has had one of the most meteoric rises of any coach in memory, going from Bowling Green, to Utah to Florida to the National Championship game all since 2001.


Ohio State and Florida have never played.

Ohio State is 0-7 against the SEC in bowl games, including Jim Tressel's only bowl loss (South Carolina) and 3-9-1 all time against the SEC, the only conference Ohio State has a losing record to.

In 2002, a second year coach led a defensive oriented team into the National Championship game against a highly favored team with a high powered offense amid complaints that said team wasn't that good because it won ugly and lacked "style points."  Urban Meyer is a second year coach, Florida is a defensive oriented team, Ohio State will be heavily favored, they have a dominate offense and Florida has been criticized all season for winning ugly and lacking style points.

Keys to the game:

Ohio State – Do what you've been doing.  Avoid turnovers on offense.  Let Troy Smith do his thing and mix in the running game as much as possible.  Force Florida to kick field goals (because they'll probably miss unless they are chip shots).

Florida – Control the ball.  While you don't think of Florida as a ball control offense, they can be and will have to be, mixing in DeShawn Wynn, QB runs and WR reverses to keep Ohio State on their heels and to give Leak time to throw.  Make no mistakes and force the Buckeyes into turnovers.  Take chances and play loose. 

What will happen

Anyway you look at it, Florida looks to be up against it.  Ohio State appears to be a team without any weaknesses, whereas Florida can't make a field goal longer than thirty yards and has an inconsistent offense.  I expect Florida to come out fired up and have some early success on offense, as Meyer comes out with some specific schemes for Ohio State.  But Ohio State's defense is great at making adjustments and their offense is too good to slow down for an entire game.  Florida will probably need to win the turnover battle to come out on top. 

My prediction 38-17 Ohio State. 

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