For a while – a very short while – it looked like the story of the BCS National Championship game was going to be Ohio State wide-receiver, Ted Ginn Jnr, who returned the opening kick-off 93 yards for a touchdown.
But as the game developed and the Gator D-Line continued to pour through the docile Ohio O-line to ‘harry’ Heisman-holder, Troy Smith, it soon became apparent that the real story was the fall-and-rise of much-hailed, much-maligned Gator Quarterback, Chris Leak.
It remains true that Leak has never fully lived-up to the expectations of Gator-nation; yet he leaves the U of F not only with its second ever National Championship but with a prime example of how character and talent can combine to overcome adversity and disappointment.
Leak could have folded and quit when it became clear he was a misfit in the Urban Meyer era; and doubly so after Freshman QB, Tim Tebow, became the hugest of crowd favourites, when the heat was on and the crowd was baying for his backup.
Instead he dug-in and responded to Meyer’s calls for him to show and be heard to show leadership.
Well he showed it in Arizona; just as he’s shown it throughout the Gator march this season.
He finished the game 25/36 for 213 yards and a TD and although Tebow picked-up a TD and a TD pass to Caldwell, it was Leak’s measured leadership and quality passing that steered the Gator ship in the main.
Leak started the first half with a shining 8 for 8 passing streak that included the tying TD pass to Dallas Baker.
This was a statement performance by the Gators to put paid to any doubts about their validity to be competing with Ohio State for a National Championship.
The fact that their validity was ever questioned shines a bright light on the lie that is the BCS.
As we’ve argued in this blog [here, here and here … oh and here too], Florida always were worthy candidates after going 12-1 against a brutal schedule. And we hotly tipped them to succeed by beating the Ohio State university.
Because when you’re going week-on-week against quality SEC rivals and bowl-eligible teams then you ought to earn extra respect over those who routinely schedule-in cup-cake games ahead of ‘rivalry’ battles.
Oh … and because 51 days is a very long time to wait to claim your prize; in that regard we feel sorry for the Buckeyes.
That’s why the system need to change! Give us a playoff.
All hail the Gators … True Champions!
Game Report follows ::Who was that masked man?
Caramba! Has there ever been such a shocking start to a Championship game!
From the moment Ginn collected the opening kickoff and accelerated away from the tackle-perimeter of Florida SS, Reggie Nelson, for a 93 yard touchdown return, this was ‘Game-on’!
Yet Florida coach, Urban Meyer, worked quickly to settle the Gator nerve and make sure that ‘chip’ was firmly balanced on the shoulder of his team.
Only a last-man face-mask tackle from the Buckeye kicker denied the Gators a chance to level things with a kick-off return of their own.
But the 15 yard penalty on top of solid return yardage gifted the Gators short field and they took full advantage. Tebow joined Leak in the backfield for a 1st and one play on the Ohio 20 and bunged-it up the gut for 8. Then Leak’s 14-yd lob-toss to Dallas Baker found the receiver wide-open and skipping into the left side of the end zone for a TD, The PAT leveled the scores and a packed arena buckled-in-up for a wild, wild ride.
And the first time the Florida ‘D’ took the field they forced the Buckeye’s into a 3-and-out set including a 3rd&6 sacking of Troy Smith by DE Derrick Harvey on the Ohio 27. Great secondary cover gave Harvey time to blindside Smith and foreshadowed a long night for Smith.
The Gators marched down field again on their second possession with Harvin taking the option pass from Leak and spearing through the left side from 4 yard for the TD. Although the play was reviewed the TD was upheld despite Harvin possibly having had a knee down at the 2 yard line as he drove through a crowd of Buckeyes.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole event was that Ohio State’s standout wide-receiver, Ted Ginn Jnr was forced to limp out of the game on the Buckeye’s first offensive possession with a sprained left foot; it was a devastating blow. And that possession ended with Smith again sacked by Harvey, this time on his own 36yd line.
Facing a 3rd and long inside his own half Smith was again harried by the Gator D and the blitz panicked him into a loose throw, with Reggie Lewis snapping up the interception at his own 29 yard line.
The Gators’ option set continued to dazzle the Buckeyes as they compiled a 10 play drive that culminated in DeShawn Wynn’s 2 yard run for a TD. The ‘drive’ confirmed the Gators first quarter dominance: Leak continuing a hot 8 for 8 start with 15yd and 18yd tosses to Ingram and Cornelius; Harvin and Wynn added rushing yards; and Andre Caldwell’s reverse setting up the field position for Wynn’s TD with a first and goal on the Ohio 8 yard line.
A personal foul by Siler on Smith gave short field to Ohio and temporarily stemmed the Gator tide. Smith momentarily found his rhythm to maintain a drive and Antonio Pitman bounced to the outside to scamper 18-yd for his 14th TD of the season.
But Leak continued an impressive first half converting a big 3&5 first down on his own 35 to keep the drive alive. Although Leak stalled on the next set, Smith was also stymied as the Gator D forced another 3&out possession from the Buckeyes.
That saw the Gators starting from their own 40 and Leak combined on pass plays to TE Ingram and Harvin in compiling a 7 play 37 yard drive that put them on the Ohio State 20. Although the Buckeye defense held firm – and a holding penalty drove the Gators back 5 yards – kicker, Chris Hetland (4 of 13 on the season), tagged on a field goal to put the Gators 10 points ahead at 24-14.
Desperate now to break the Gator stranglehold and generate some go-forward for his team Buckeye coach, Jim Tressell uncharacteristically gambled with a 4th & 1 play on their own 30. He lost– big time –as the Gators’ D-line got great penetration and Wells was stopped at the scrimmage-line despite a second effort lunge
So, Florida took over deep in Buckeye country with three minutes to play in the half and a golden chance to put serious daylight between them and hitherto unbeaten Ohio State; although the Buckeye D stepped-up to stall Leak, Hetland nailed another 40yd FG for a 27-14 lead.
But the Gators’ weren’t finished. Jarvis Moss penetrated deep behind the O-line to strip the ball from Smith and into the hands of fellow-end Harvey who was hauled down on the Ohio 5-yard line.
Can you hear the shouts of ‘Te-bow, Te-bow?’. First he tucked-it-in and took it to the ‘2’, Then he budged it to the ‘1’. Finally he skipped-out on the option and lobbed a TD pass to Caldwell in the left corner of the end zone.
At the half Leak was 16 of 24 for 150 yards and a TD, whilst Smith was 2 of 8 for 34. Ohio’s vaunted offenses’ seven possessions had gone: Punt, Interception, TD, Punt, Turnover on downs, Fumble and out of time at the half.
As explosive as that opening stanza had been the second was almost bound to be anti-climactic and so it proved, but at least it left plenty of time for partying.
The Gators slumbered beyond the second half kickoff as their offense misfired for the first time in the game on a Leak fumble and a false start by Wynn. And it was compounded by a poor punt (20yd) by Wilbur that Ohio fielded on the half way mark.
Yet still the Florida D was up the task, harrying Smith and forcing yet another 3-out drive on halfway.
All of which set the pattern for a defense dominated quarter that ended scoreless for either side and left the Gators just 15-minutes from the second National Championship in their 99 year history.
Heisman Trophy winner, Troy Smith’s, miserable night continued into the final quarter of the game as he was sacked for a fourth time on its first play; the Gator-D once again pouring through the Buckeye O-line.
And Tebow sealed the Gators’ victory when he picked-up a touchdown on a 1-yard rush with 4 minutes remaining in the game.
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