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January 8, 2007
Florida rolls over Ohio State to claim title
No. 1 Ohio State
No. 2 Florida
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GLENDALE, Ariz. - A runaway.
Turns out Florida was too good to be on the same field as Ohio State, and that Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the Buckeyes were the ones who weren't worthy after all.
Coach Urban Meyer's once-beaten Gators dominated the undefeated No. 1 Buckeyes and streaked to college football's national championship, 41-14 on Monday night.
"Honestly, we've played a lot better teams than them," Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said. "I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them."
Chris Leak and Tim Tebow showed off Meyer's twin quarterback system to perfection as the second-ranked Gators became the first Division I school to hold national titles in football and basketball at the same time.
Now, only one question remains: What about 13-0 Boise State, the last undefeated team left standing after stunning Oklahoma on the very same field in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day?
Florida's amazingly easy victory left the Gators and the Buckeyes with identical 13-1 records and, with Wisconsin and Louisville also losing just once, almost surely will renew calls for a playoff system.
"I love Boise State. We don't want to go play them. We're done, we're done, we're finished," Meyer said.
"There are probably five, six, seven great football teams in this country and there is one way to figure out who the better team is and that's to go play the game," he said.
Ohio State started out like the one-touchdown favorite it was, but only for an instant.
Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, but then it quickly fell apart for the Buckeyes. Ginn hurt his foot in the touchdown celebration and hobbled off after Ohio State's first offensive play.
By the time he returned for the second half on crutches, Florida led 34-14.
"We scored on the first play of the game and from that point on really couldn't keep the pressure where we needed it to be," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said.
"Ohio State didn't get it done," he said.
Meyer had a word for the critics who demeaned the Gators.
"I'd like to thank all those people. Our pregame speech was easy," he said.
Leak, maligned for never winning the big one, completed 25 of 36 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. The Rambo-like Tebow threw for one TD and powered into the end zone for another.
"My legacy was to get the University of Florida back here," Leak said.
Smith, meanwhile, joined a long list of Heisman Trophy quarterbacks - Jason White, Eric Crouch and Gino Torretta, among them - to fall apart in bowl games. He was just 4-of-14 for 35 yards with one interception and was held to minus-29 yards on 10 runs.
"Not everything in life is going to go the exact way you want it," Smith said. "I don't have any regrets, though. I really don't. We came out and fought. We came up short.
"Sometimes you have great games and sometimes you don't."
"Nobody never gave us a chance at all," Florida receiver Dallas Baker said. "We came here with a chip on our shoulder and something to prove. Nobody gave us a chance, but finally we can throw up the No. 1."
It was the second national title for Florida, adding to the one Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel brought home in 1996 under coach Steve Spurrier with a 52-20 romp over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
This time, the man in charge was the 42-year-old Meyer, once a .200 hitter in the low minors in Atlanta's baseball farm system. Since then, he's made a rocket rise in the coaching ranks, topped off by a title in his second year at Florida.
The trophy will make a perfect bookend for the one the basketball Gators won by beating UCLA for the national championship in Indianapolis last spring.
"How do I compare them? Both have confetti landing on my head," athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "I couldn't believe it in April, I can't believe it now. I can't believe I can talk about it without jinxing us. Obviously, things had to break our way to even get here."
Tressel's team, meanwhile, looked as if it belonged at the Holiday Bowl, because it took this night off. Given 51 days to prepare, the Buckeyes were confused from the get-go once Florida got the ball.
In the first football matchup between these schools - they've both played the sport for 100-plus years - the Gators emphatically stopped Ohio State's 19-game winning streak.
The Buckeyes beat a pair of No. 2 teams, defending champion Texas and Michigan, earlier in the season, but they were no match for Florida's speed, strategy and style.
Ohio State hoped to win its fifth national title, having taken it behind Maurice Clarett in 2002.
But these Buckeyes looked completely flummoxed by Florida's frenetic offense at the outset. Trying to match up with the Gators' shifting formations, they often jumped around at the line and still were out of position.
Leak gladly took advantage of the confusion, picking wide-open receivers at will and hitting his first nine passes. Criticized most of his career for a lack of fire, the guy with the soft, green eyes seemed real comfortable.
By the end, the numbers were numbing. Florida outgained the Buckeyes 370 yards to 82, led in first downs 21-8 and time of possession 40:48 to 19:12.
"They earned the national championship, no doubt about it," Tressel said.
Meyer's gadgets made it easy pickings for the Gators. They came out in a five-wide set after Ginn's kickoff return, and Leak hit Baker with a tying, 14-yard touchdown pass.
The next time they touched the ball, the Gators let Leak, Tebow and scatback Percy Harvin all take direct snaps from center. Harvin later tucked it under his right arm - the one with a lion tattoo - and powered for a 4-yard TD.
A flanker reverse by Andre Caldwell helped Florida move to a third-and-goal at the 2 as the first quarter ended. When the second period began, Meyer immediately reached into his bag of tricks.
Florida put three running backs directly behind Leak - a power-I-plus - and gave the ball to the last one. DeShawn Wynn scored on the first play of the quarter, plunging into the end zone right in front of the Gators' band, for a stunning 21-7 lead.
Ohio State returned to its roots and ran the ball. Antonio Pittman's 18-yard burst made it 21-14 with 13:32 left before halftime.
Undaunted, the Gators came back with something totally out of character, even for them - field goals.
Chris Hetland was only 4-for-13 on kicks this season, and his longest was 33 yards. But Meyer said he would trust him in this game, and Hetland made good, from 42 and 40 yards on the next two possessions.
Hetland's second kick came after Tressel showed a little early desperation, gambling on fourth-and-1 at his own 29 and saw Chris Wells stuffed.
The Buckeyes got the ball on their 20 with less than two minutes left before halftime and were determined to see a score before the break. They did - by Florida.
Moss sacked Smith and forced him to fumble, and the Gators took over at 5. Tebow ran twice up the middle, then faked a quarterback draw, rolled to the left and tossed a 1-yard TD pass to Caldwell.
At 34-14, fans on both sides were stunned as the teams ran to the locker rooms.
"I think we took advantage of the time we had off, getting guys healthy and being able to game-plan things to perfection," Leak said.