Assessing the mythical National Championship
Thursday: How Florida Can Win.
Friday: When Ohio State has the ball.
Saturday: When Florida has the ball.
Monday: Hype! And a prediction.
Today: Special teams, mascots and other oddities.
Oddity: on a SportsCenter interview airing late Sunday, Urban Meyer (while pronouncing the word "roots" like "ruhts") told Andrea Kramer his players found out about USC's loss to UCLA at halftime of the SEC Championship via "cell phones...these days they find out before the coaches do." In the locker room, in the middle of a game? That's certainly, um, progressive.
UCLA? Tipped pass? What?! Man, no way...
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Kicking: A tale of two kickers: Aaron Pettrey, when called on, was the usual OSU robo-kicker in the Nugent-Houston mold, knocking through 8 of 10 kicks beyond 30 yards with a long of 51 - only a yard shy of the 52-yarder the other Buckeye kicker, Ryan Pretorius, hit against Cincinnati. And then there's poor Chris Hetland, who was doing voodoo dances and bathing in chicken blood by the time he made a 33-yard chip in the SEC Championship, the first kick beyond 30 he'd hit in 11 tries. No problem declaring "Advantage: Buckeyes" here.
Ohio State doesn't have to settle for field goal tries often (again, only 13 tries on the season), but when it comes to fourth down anywhere outside of the red zone, Florida - when neither team can afford to leave potential points on the field - is likely to be quicker on the trigger to go for it.
Returning: Since he brought back four punts for scores as a true freshman, Ted Ginn Jr. glows ominously in the eyes of special team coaches like tumor-casuing nuclear radiation to be avoided at all costs, and as a result only gets to return two or so of the six punts per game OSU forces. Michigan State was the only victim of a Ginn return for score in 2006, and he was more modest with a 20-yard average on kickoff returns, but the sheer, omnipresent magnitude of his threat back there will likely induce a barrage of those weird-looking rugby punts from Eric Wilbur.
Florida'd just as soon not, thanks.
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Equally terrifying on Florida's end is freshman Brandon James, who finally scored on a punt against Western Carolina after coming close to breaking several returns against Georgia and Vanderbilt and getting one spectacular run at Tennessee called back in September. James is 5'5" and has that squat, Barry Sanders hop-and-go that is guaranteed to put OSU fans' hearts in their throats at least once, whether or not the jukes lead to anything substantive up the field. You could see Reggie Nelson here, too, who's less dangerous in a tight quarters but can't be all that much more comforting to the Buckeyes.
Punting: Neither Wilbur (40.5 per punt) nor A.J. Trapasso (41 per) is Ray Guy reincarnated in terms of leg strength, but Wilbur's sky-high boots are only returned for about a yard apiece, meaning most aren't brought back at all; of the 31 percent (18 of 49) that were, the longest return was just 15 yards, and almost half landed inside the twenty - and a mere three were touchbacks. That's tremendous accuracy. Because Ginn looms downfield as the most dangerous return threat Florida's faced, sustaining this success is key not only for preventing big plays but also maintaining manageable field position and making OSU earn everything it gets on offense.
Trapasso, too, puts a high number of kicks (15 of 43) inside the opponents' 20, which is a testament largely to where the offense has him kicking from. To the extent either team will be punting regularly, James (or Nelson), like Ginn, is probably going to wind up...
...watching a lot of kicks sail out of bounds or roll around/past the goalline.
Reggie Fish says: You watch those punts. Just watch `em roll, dammit...
Blocking: Florida's most decisive, if obscure, advantage entering Monday's game: the Gators have blocked five punts, two field goals and an extra point; Ohio State has blocked one punt and one field goal. Again, OSU has had no need to go barreling in after a kick, but Florida has created key momentum swings on punt blocks against LSU, Arkansas and Vanderbilt, the latter probably the difference between the Gators' too-close win in Nashville and a humbling, Outback Bowl-assigning defeat. Both of Jarvis Moss' blocks on an extra point and a game-winning field goal attempt by South Carolina were essential saviors of a one-point victory that could have - probably, this being a game SMQ watched, should have - knocked Florida out of contention for Monday's game. Aside from Moss in the middle of the placekicking defense, Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith have blocked two punts apiece, Jarred Fayson another.
The Buckeyes, though, haven't allowed anyone to take one off Trapasso's foot, while Wilbur's protection proved susceptible with blocked kicks by LSU and, more memorably, the gaffe at Auburn. Florida runs that wack punt formation that spreads blockers out across the field and lets blockers free up the middle to the upbacks (seen here at 1:02), which SMQ does not understand and for which he always forecasts doom. He won't go that far here, but curmudgeonly distaste reigns as ever.
You Were Promised Mascots...
The above version, circa 1965, is presented because it exists. Er, existed. It eventally gave way to this before Ohio State settled on its current incarnation:
Help me! Please?
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As far as mascots go, you can do far worse than a disproportionately-sized, primitively-rendered, google-eyed baby head with the timeless cap of a vitrolic assaulter of opposing players. Brutus remains through the decades suitably disorienting and fuzzy.
For SMQ's money, though, only two mascots have the chops to overcome his stated "mouth closed" rule, and one is only because it once was flagged for a 15-yard penalty in the Sugar Bowl. The other is because it's just intense, and a pimp to boot:
The photographer was immediately devoured.
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Note the lovely lipstick on Alberta, lady-like even while terror-inducing. This is a fairly dirty pair, which has the added bonus - while retaining appropriate levels of fuzz and anthropomorphism - of possibly the highest level of realism in the fluffy, non-human/live animal mascot universe. Certainly this can't compete, though this just might.
Monday: Gametime! Hoo!