COLUMBUS When the pregame buildup for Minnesota or Indiana gets a little too laudatory, even the most ardent Ohio State followers can raise an eyebrow in skepticism.
But Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel seems not likely to get cited for excessive use of superlatives when he is talking about his next opponent Florida the team that top-ranked Ohio State meets in the BCS National Championship Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.
The Buckeyes and the Gators form a very elite club. The pair ended up at the top of the pyramid once the football season was completed, and those two are the only ones who have a shot at claiming the national title.
The way Tressel puts it, besides the customary respect for the opponent, there is an inherent fear of the known, and the unknown, when the subject is Florida.
Tressel knows the Gators had to be a great team to go 12-1 in the cutthroat Southeastern Conference and finish ranked No. 2. But in terms of specifics, he did not start the bowl preparations with a huge reservoir of knowledge about Florida.
We ve never played Florida, and trying to get prepared without having really competed with someone is a little more difficult, Tressel said recently.
I haven t watched enough film yet, but let s pretend I had watched enough film and it is weeks from now. I m sure there will be areas of Florida s attack that I ll say, that is the best this we ve faced or that is the best that we ve faced. To go through the SEC the way they did, and then to win the championship game along with beating your instate rival, Florida State, that is pretty good. I m sure this will be as big a challenge as we have had.
The Gators vaulted into the national title game by outlasting Arkansas 38-28 in the SEC title game on Dec. 2. Florida used creative means to score second-half touchdowns off a bungled punt, a 67-yard run, and a pass thrown by a wide receiver. Tressel has been impressed with the Gators unique combination of size and speed.
The little bit of film I have watched, they are very physical, he said. What is it force equals mass times acceleration. They can accelerate and they have good-sized guys. I have seen a lot of splattering going on in that film.
The Florida defense allows just 13.5 points and 268.8 yards per game, and ranks sixth nationally in defending against the run, with opponents averaging just 74.5 yards on the ground. Utilizing that speed Tressel cited, the Gators have intercepted 20 passes and sacked the opposing quarterback 29 times.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman has put together his initial analysis of the Florida defense he will strategize against.
They are really good up front, and I think any good defense in the United States is really, really good up front, Bollman said.
It gives people a chance to do their jobs and you don t have to cover people quite as long cause you have great pass rush. The linebackers can make plays because you re handling people up front. Their secondary they challenge you. They play quite a bit of man coverage. They all run very well, and the whole defense runs very well.
On offense the Gators use a potent run/pass balance to score about 30 points per game from the 400 yards of offense they average. Quarterback Chris Leak has hit 207 of 329 passes this season for 2,729 yards and 22 touchdowns. Dallas Baker has 56 receptions for 897 yards with nine touchdowns, while Andre Caldwell has 55 catches, 571 yards, and five scores.
Florida spreads the ball around when running it, with tailback DeShawn Wynn getting 630 yards on 124 carries. Freshman backup quarterback Tim Tebow has rushed for 430 yards and seven touchdowns, and thrown for four additional scores.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said it will take a complex approach to counter what the Gators can throw at you.
They do a lot of things. You better be prepared for a lot of different things and you have to be disciplined and you have to defend the whole field, Heacock said.
You ll see a lot of different looks and a lot of different plays and that could change. We may see something that we haven t seen yet. It s challenging. They have two outstanding quarterbacks, and the combination of those two quarterbacks means you have to prepare for both of them and have a scheme for both of them and be aware of who is in there.
Ohio State senior defensive tackle David Patterson said his team s preparation for Leak s passing and Tebow s running will be enhanced because of the offense the Buckeyes face in practice every day. Patterson said Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith brings both looks to the field.
They have the two quarterbacks who do great things for them, but playing against Troy Smith in practice prepares us, Patterson said. He is an efficient passer, and he ll run if he needs to, so the defense is ready for all aspects of the game. When you practice against the Heisman Trophy winner, it elevates your game.