Today started as a really dreary day here in Gainesville. It was cool, overcast, and drizzly. Shortly after noon though it began to break and now it is a beautiful day. Basically, it was a typical cold front day. It may feel fine now, but it’ll get colder after the sun goes down. If the Gators win tonight, expect to see lots of jackets, sweatshirts, and knitted wool hats.
Bonus Overrated Media Story
The SEC Has More Speed than the Big 10
While this may be true overall, on a top-to-bottom basis, let’s face it: everyone has speed nowadays. Florida has it, Ohio State has it, and if you saw any of the Fiesta Bowl, you’ll know that even Boise State has it. With the way that training science has improved over the years, it turns out you probably can teach speed, or at least improve it. Ted Ginn and Percy Harvin have the unteachable kind of speed, but with the kind of facilities and resources that most college programs have, everyone has speed.
Stuff that Actually Matters
Both coaches in this game have proved that they are sharp if you give them extra time to prepare, so that’s a non-factor. What does matter is how much time both teams have had off. Ohio State’s 51-day break from games will be a factor initially because no team can go that long without a game and play well for all 60 minutes. Ohio State will find their groove again, but I don’t expect to see the Buckeyes light up the scoreboard in the first quarter without big help from turnovers or special teams.
Florida has had a more traditional break, but their problem is one that has been there for the past 4 years: focus. The Gators have a hard time handling success during a game lately, which is why there have been so few blowouts and the Ron Zook-led teams gave away so many leads. You can always tell when it’s going to happen too: they’ll come out for a kickoff jumping around, waving their arms, pointing at the crowd, and then the defense will come out and do the same. Scoring drives of 5 plays or less usually follow this behavior. Urban Meyer has done a lot to curb this, but half of the team is still Zook players, and this will remain a concern for me at least the whole game.
This guy is as crucial a player as there is in this game. Florida’s secondary is undersized and inexperienced. Nelson and Ryan Smith have player pretty well for the most part, but Tony Joiner is not going to be at full-strength and Reggie Lewis cannot be trusted against top-flight receivers. Beyond that, you have the freshman Dorian Monroe and the McCollum brothers. These are hardly promising prospects against the talent Ohio State has on offense.
This brings us back to Reggie Nelson. He and/or Ryan Smith have made some kind of huge play in the second half of every win that in some capacity seals the game for Florida. The only game that neither made such a play in was the Auburn game. These guys need to make something happen. Nelson will be very emotional with the recent passing of his mother, with whom he was very close. I expect he’ll try to play hard in her honor and memory, but I hope that doesn’t mean he overpursues looking to make a big hit somewhere. He’s been known to do that when he gets excited. Nelson must play well for Florida to have a chance.
Eliminating the Big Mistake
Whether it is Eric Wilbur dropping a punt or Chris Leak throwing bad interceptions, this Gator team has been susceptible to making very bad plays at inopportune times. Each of Florida’s past two games they have come out flat after halftime and had a terrible third quarter. In the Arkansas game, it was probably because at halftime they heard that USC had lost and they lost focus, as I have described above, allowing their minds to go to Arizona before finishing the job in Atlanta. Having that one disastrous quarter against Ohio State means going home humiliated.
Close Game Experience
Nearly everyone agrees that this game will be close. Florida has had much more experience in winning close games than OSU has had this year. From rallying from 10 points down at Tennessee to putting Arkansas away after falling behind in the second half, Florida has been winning close games all year. Ohio State on the other hand, has really only been in danger once, against Illinois, and the Illini would have had to drive the length of the field to tie it up (highly unlikely given the two teams involved). And no, the Michigan game was not that close.
I don’t know how good Ohio State is in a hurry-up offense because I just haven’t seen that much game film of them playing. I do know that Chris Leak is at his absolute best in the 2-minute drill. When he’s out there just throwing and not thinking hard, not worrying about having to run the option, and knowing exactly where he needs to put the ball (near the sidelines), he executes with outstanding precision. When it comes to the last two minutes, I have much more faith in Florida’s ability to move the ball down the field and score than I do in its ability to keep an opposing offense from moving down the field to get within field goal range.
Well, hopefully there’s some unique things in there for you. Final predictions in a bit.