Florida 41, Ohio State 14
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First: Let SMQ point out that Southern Miss, 34-7 losers in Gainesville in the season opener, trailed Florida just 14-7 at the half and therefore was probably more competitive against the mythical champions than Ohio State Monday. To the Top!
Second: Good for overmatched Chris Leak. Good for shameless Urban Meyer. Good for no good Chris Hetland. Congratulations Florida for one of the stunning, dominating championsip performances of the decade and the hands-down defining romp of this long, great season.
Are you kidding?
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SMQ strives for a wide audience, a discerning, literate coterie of impeccable taste, critical disposition and an eclectic array of interests. But most of you are just obscene football nuts. And if you are among the bleary-eyed persons engaged in a bittersweet four-month tryst with the fickle gridiron, you know it is infallibly true when SMQ says there is nothing in that span - in the entire career trajectories of Monday night's quarterbacks, in fact, or, for that matter, of any of its participants - that could possibly begin to explain this:
|Off Season Average||Monday||Monday||Off Season Average|
|+ 10.7||36||Attempts||14||– 10.8|
|+ 9.1||25||Completions||4||– 12.6|
|+ 6.48||69.4||Comp. %||28.6||– 38.4|
|+ 3.08||213||Yards||35||– 173.9|
|– 2.4||5.9||Per Attempt||2.5||– 5.6|
|– 0.69||1||Touchdowns||0||– 2.5|
|– 1||0||Interceptions||1||+ 0.58|
|– 0.45||1||Sacked||5||+ 3.92|
|+ 12.15||41||Points by Offense||14||– 22.33|
Football has the glorious potential at all times to prove itself as such a weird game, in the best way for an oft-maligned, undersized, weenie-armed former blue chip who by some accounts nearly lost his job to lefty freshman hottness in September. SMQ does not believe in "SEC speed" as such or a thirteen-point ratings boost because of a month of "disrespect." A Florida win was not surprising. Pressure on Troy Smith was not surprising. A solid, near-flawless performance by Chris Leak was, all in all, not surprising. A complete meltdown by Troy Smith and his lauded minions, a turnover-filled comedy of errors fueled by apprehension and the apparent installation of lead soles in his offensive tackles' previously nimble cleats, though, that was a shock for which no precedent could have possibly existed.
Doubts? What doubts? Kid's a star!
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It's not only that Smith and OSU's offensive line were so consistently productive and occasionally dominant in the preceding 12 games - the preceding 19 games, in fact, all the way back to last October - and at their lethal best against defending champion Texas early and the vaunted Michigan defense in November; it was also the senior's cool, composure, decision-making and improvisation under pressure, against the best opponents. Texas had athletes and speed, Michigan had athletes and speed. Penn State had enough of both to beat Tennessee, a team by most measures - including a mere one-point UF win in September - the Gators' virtual equal.
No, as surely as the most rabid depths of Florida's defensive soul frothed and seethed in their ascent to a gory climax, something was equally wrong here with Ohio State, likewise beginning mentally and trickling into the bloodstream and dulling the fast-twitch muscle fibers from one end of the bench to the next. It's one thing to deliver by far your worst performance of the season on such a stage. But seriously, Vanderbilt and South Carolina fared exponentially better against the Gators; yardage-wise, every offense save Western Carolina fared better, which by the third quarter looked about right: Ohio State and its Most Outstanding™ leader moved the ball with roughly the verve of Western Carolina. Possibly Gator-induced confusion can account for this, and no doubt did to some great degree, but in such a monumental choke on such a monumental level, at some point, there must also be a degree of ordinary lethargy. Ohio State wasn't really surprised Florida came to play with the big boys, was it? The Buckeyes, and their leader above all, certainly looked it.
And Florida's offense, well, ultimately nothing spectacular or even all that new - certainly nothing in the vicinity of the endless barrage of tricks and gadgets we were led to believe - but in its modest efficiency a virtuostic display of controlled passing by the very composed senior quarterback on the field and of creativity in the running game; SMQ, perhaps alone, suggested Urban Meyer would be able to cobble together an effective rushing attack against the fearsome OSU front seven, and UF indeed matched its typical yield of 156 yards at much better than the sack-and-garbage-time-deflated 3.6-yard average would suggest. The myriad swings and screens to Percy Harvin belong in the `rushing' category, too, as long handoffs that burned Ohio State's unresponsive soft zone over and over. And over. And over and over. Harvin had nine catches for 6.7 apiece. Pretty good average for a series of clock-killing sweeps.
Oh, the clock-killing, grisly business, that, quite, and done with mercenary efficiency Monday by Florida, which controlled possession for just shy of 41 minutes. It's always quality that matters over quantity, but even when the Heisman winner is lucky to be on his feet long enough to lob the ball around futilely in baffled frustration, it's nice to keep it out of his potentially hot-at-any-moment hands. To that end, the Gators strung together six drives lasting longer than three minutes and three more longer than two and a half; two of the three UF possessions lasting under two minutes were extremely short-field scoring drives. The Buckeyes, by contrast, had two drives longer than two minutes, in which they turned the ball over on downs on four plays in a critical situation in the second quarter and went three-and-out to open the third. That's no way to get in sync without your most potentially cataclysmic playmaker.
º Speaking of whom, how much did Ginn Jr.'s immediate departure leave OSU gameplans in ruin? From the early looks of it when he was in the game, not much. Barry Alvarez suggested Anthony Gonzalez could be that guy to step in and stretch a corner - and probably a safety with him - deep because his speed reputedly rivals Ginn's, but Reggie Nelson admitted after the game that not having to worry about No. 7 affected Florida's gameplan, most likely by making it more aggressive. Whether or not Gonzalez can actually fly like Ginn, part of the latter's value is the respect, the fear, he can put into a defense, especially one that watched him break free on a kick return to begin the game. If he doesn't draw two defenders, he's likely to get a very snuggly soft zone, and either way, he can take one or two guys deep with him to open up underneath routes. It's the respect for Ginn that helps open a lot of the outs thrown mainly to Gonzalez, but without him, corners were likely more willing to walk up, play more physically and dare the remaining, less-proven blazers to make them pay before one of Charlie Strong's blitzes hit its mark. Which never happened (making the UF secondary pay, that is, not the blitzes, which hit seemingly every mark). Gonzalez - nor Robiskie, Hall or Hartline - never gave Florida any reason to respect them as deep threats worthy of more than one defender, and the result was the total absence of a legitimately open OSU receiver all night, alternately a cause and beneficiary of the constant pressure on Smith.
Hobbled, Ginn Jr. perseveres nevertheless in the essential role of somber metaphor.
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º This is not a proper Sunday Morning Quarterback effort, so SMQ won't do the auditing that generally accompanies it, but he would like to note his prescience Monday in pegging Florida's keys to victory: no turnovers, effective Tebow Smash, the incarnation of Good Chris Leak, semi-regular planting of Troy Smith and a huge momentum swing in the Gators' favor, every one of which came to pass in the UF blowout. Of course, he specified a "special teams play" as the momentum-changer, which actually went in the Buckeyes' favor, but the fourth down stop that led to a Florida field goal and the subsequent strip by Jarvis Moss that became another Gator touchdown just before the half fit the "game-changer" bill snugly enough. Conversely, Ohio State followed precisely none of SMQ's prescriptions - Troy Smith was not Troy Smith, OSU did not finish drives (they would actually have had to start them), there was no semi-regular planting of Chris Leak (just the one sack) and it handed over momentum with gusto in the aforementioned second quarter sequence - and paid the price.
He was completely wrong, of course, about the game's outcome, the ability of Ohio State to move the ball (Friday: "Take it as a given Ohio State will move the ball," along with some hilariously distorted yardage benchmarks) and the Most Outstanding™ James Bond awesomeness relative to Chris Leak's lo-flow inconsistency. Again, there was no reason not to think any of that eventual nonsense 18 hours ago.
º On Ginn's opening touchdown run, Florida looked like it was in position, then for no apparent reason abandoned lane responsibility to overload the coverage to Ginn's right. Once he cut it up the middle to the left and broke the tackle of the one player with a chance to make a play - who completely overran to Ginn's right and managed just a falling, grasping effort - Reggie Nelson nor anyone else in pursuit was going to catch him. It looked like the Gators expected something that never materialized.
º SMQ and everyone else justifiably raved about Troy Smith's composure under pressure against Michigan, but that confidence was replaced by complete uncertainty under immediate fire from the Gator line, which along with blanket coverage by the UF secondary - much of the pressure was a result of Smith's unprecedented indecision in the pocket, and he never legitimately fired downfield with any hope of completion in the first half - crippled the Most Outstanding™ ability to escape the rush and make plays on the fly. Smith was completely rattled the first half because Ohio State could not block Florida. Balleyhooed right tackle Kirk Barton could not physically block Derrick Harvey, who just pushed the right tackle aside and hunted Smith down like a wounded rabbit on each of his first half sacks, and Jarvis Moss did much worse to big Alex Boone en route to the throat-stomping strip that set up the Tebow-Caldwell touchdown just before halftime. And the OSU protection had a few mental breakdowns, too, principally on Smith's third down interception late in the first quarter. Barry Alavarez said Florida just "sent too many" for the Buckeyes to block, but in reality, Antonio Pittman or left guard Steve Rehring (SMQ has no way of knowing who was responsible for this) should have been free to pick up the delayed blitz by a DB through a space vacated by Rehring, blocking down on another blitzer to the inside while left tackle Boone was upfield with (SMQ thinks) Jarvis Moss. But Pittman didn't really block anybody, while Smith was under heat and let loose an uncharacteristically off-balance throw right into Reggie Lewis' waiting arms. But then, nothing was characteristic about anything Troy Smith did Monday after suiting up.
º Earl Everett breaks out with the helmet-less sack! This would go on to win the FOX broadcast's play of the game, which is just further proof FOX always shoots straight for the gut: despite the probable inducement of much couch-whooping and a very fine personal effort with zero regard to his long-term well-being, Everett's tackle - unlike Moss' strip - probably had no major effect on the outcome. But it was pretty bad (that is, good).
Half-starved Earl Everett released at last from a hidden pit beneath the OSU 38.
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º Ohio State's offense began the second half in pretty good position for the opening stages of a potential comeback, down three touchdowns but getting the ball after its defense's two most effective series of the night at its own 47 and 45, respectively, following a pair of lackluster efforts by Eric Wilbur (who caused much announcer chagrin on the first, a predicted rugby-style kick that wobbled around midfield and died after about 25 yards). But the Buckeye offense proceeded to lose a yard on a three-and-out - the drive ended by Everett's death-defying tackle - and pick up one first down en route to another punt, from whence Florida would flip field position and OSU would lose 18 yards on six total plays on its final two possessions. Whatever opportunity existed for Smith to rally his team back into the game disintegrated once it blew those midfield starts.
º Nice of Charles Davis to inform the FOX viewing audience in the first quarter, when Leak threw a pass away out of bound while under pressure, that it was "the best throw he'd made all night." Leak was something like 9-10 to that point with a touchdown. We hear this foolish fawning affection for incomplete throaways so often it's beaten into our mushy skulls. The lesser of all evils under the circumstances, perhaps, but was the toss into the first row really a better throw than the touchdown, Charles?
Next: One man Boise State-Florida mythical championship debate before the final Tuesday.