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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

Speed in feet of beholders as Buckeyes travel fast as Gators

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Brandon Mitchell has heard the endless drumbeat of comments before, that the athletes from a certain part of the country are so much faster than their counterparts.

But no sale here. The senior safety for top-ranked Ohio State isn't buying it. Mitchell, a native of Georgia, thinks such a line of thinking is all just parochial braggadocio.

He doesn't believe No. 2 Florida will bring its players to the Jan. 8 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game equipped with an additional gear just because the Gators are the champions of the Southeastern Conference.

"I think that wherever you are from, they all talk about their speed," Mitchell said. "If you're from Texas, you talk about Texas' speed. If you're from the SEC, you talk about the SEC's speed. If you're from the Big Ten, you talk about the Big Ten's speed."

For Mitchell and a number of the Buckeyes, the 'speed factor' might have existed 20 years ago, when colleges recruited on a much more regional basis. But now that all the major powers recruit nationally, expecting the geographic location of a school to translate into a speed advantage is a specious argument in Mitchell's mind.

"We've got lots of fast guys from all over the place, just like they do," Mitchell said. "There's a lot of speed spread around in college football."

When Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock wants to replicate the speed of Florida's skill-position players in practice, he thinks Buckeyes receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez turn on the jets just fine. And Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is not hesitant to let his top offensive players go at the first-team defense and test them with that speed.

"One of the things we've been able to do over the years, which coach Tressel is a believer in, is we go first-team offense against first-team defense for at least a portion of our practice," Heacock said. "So when we're going against Teddy and Gonzo, we're going against some pretty good speed."

Florida's speed, however, has been evident in the game films the Buckeyes have been watching.

Senior defensive back Antonio Smith said he noticed right away that the Gators move at a pretty good clip collectively.

"They have great size and speed, and a talented group of wide receivers," Smith said. "They use multiple quarterbacks, who both play at a high level. They are so fast. They are a great opponent. We will have to do a great job in preparation to win this game."

Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes said Florida freshman receiver Percy Harvin, who won a record five events at the Virginia high school state track and field championships in 2005, has speed that is a concern.

"They use him in so many ways, and he is very fast, talented and confident," Haynes said about Harvin, who will return kicks and punts, catch passes, and line up at running back. "Like all their opponents did, we'll just try to limit his big plays because every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score."

Tressel, whose team has won 19 straight, takes the Buckeyes into their second national championship game in his sixth season in Columbus and is quite aware that Florida coach Urban Meyer has sculpted the Gators with speed as the primary ingredient. Meyer has the Gators in the title game in just his second season in Gainesville.

"Urban has paid close attention to the people he has worked for, and I think he builds a program the way it is supposed to be built," Tressel said.

"He builds it with discipline. He builds it with speed. He builds it with attention to detail. They are explosive across the ball. I don't just think they are explosive on offense. I think they are explosive on defense and on special units. I think the matchup is a great one because philosophically, I think we're fairly aligned. We're both blessed with very good players."

The Gators appear to be confident in their speed, as Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith noticed in the way Florida aligns its defense.

Florida is apparently not afraid to let its defensive backs go it alone in pass coverage.

"They trust in their front seven, and their front four," Smith said. "They play a lot of man-to-man defense behind it, having that faith in their guys up front that they will put enough pressure on the quarterback or disrupt the running game and let their defensive backs run with you all across the board. Obviously, they have faith in those guys, and after watching film, I can see why."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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