SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
1/09/2007 03:43:00 AM
Florida 42, Ohio State 14: Final Thoughts
Known as one of the nation's best big-game coaches, Ohio State's Jim Tressel didn't seem to have an answer for Florida.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Final thoughts and observations following Monday night’s BCS blowout (with help from Luke Winn, who’s sitting right next to me) ...
∙ The way the game transpired was eerily similar to the USC-Oklahoma game two years ago, right down to the fact that the Buckeyes, just like the Sooners, jumped ahead first on Ted Ginn Jr.’s game-opening kick return. Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said it was huge that Brandon James had a big return of his own on the ensuing kick to give the Gators a starting position of their own 46. After they marched down the field to tie the game, Mullen said he told Chris Leak, “All right, the joke’s over. Let’s start the real game.”
∙ Jim Tressel has won enough big games in his time that one such loss should not override them, but Monday night was not exactly his finest hour. Besides the obvious, bizarre fourth-and-one call, it didn’t seem like the Buckeyes made any significant adjustments during the game to counter Florida’s pass-rush. “I think at times we put Troy [Smith] in a situation that was tough, from a scheme standpoint.”
∙ Florida coach Urban Meyer declined to reveal the identity of the good-luck charm he was seen pulling out of his pocket and later holding on the sideline during the game. “It is personal,” said Meyer. “I have had that for six years and it’s something that helps me make good decisions.” Meyer’s wife, Shelly, standing outside the locker room afterward, was happy to show off a Buckeye given to her by a friend from Salt Lake City.
∙ Troy Smith had been a model of poise all season, and several Florida defenders noted that he kept his cool even while struggling so mightily. It carried over to the post-game presser, too, where a remarkably upbeat Smith handled his press-conference duties the same way he would have after a win. “I’m a realist,” he said. “I have an understanding that not everything in life is going to go the exact way that you want it to.”
∙ None of the Buckeyes explicitly announced their pro futures in the locker room afterward, but we did get a few hints: Running back Antonio Pittman said that he will "make a decision regarding his future" at a Jan. 15 press conference at his old high school, Akron Buchtel. Does anyone schedule a press conference ahead of time if they're coming back to school? Receiver Anthony Gonzalez said he thought it was irresponsible to consider his pro future until after the title game, but said, "I know this -- this is certainly not how I wanted to end my Ohio State football career."
∙ The quarterback most likely to succeed Smith is junior Todd Boeckman, who is Gonzalez's roommate and was slotted as the third-stringer this season. Of Boeckman, sophomore wide receiver Brian Robiskie said, "I'm not going to say he's a 'Troy', but he's got one of the stronger arms on the team. He'll sit back in the pocket and read a defense real smoothly."
∙ At a news conference Monday morning, BCS coordinator Mike Slive discussed the much-talked about plus-one game that most observers expect to be added to the postseason come 2010. Answer me this: If there was a plus-one this season, who the heck would Florida be playing?
∙ Finally, I can’t say I was paying very close attention to the Ohio State band at halftime, but it was pointed out to me by numerous people that one of its selections was the theme song from Titanic. Jeez.
Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith had no answer for a suffocating, lightning-fast Florida defense.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In last year’s BCS title game, we watched two epic offenses, USC and Texas, exchange blows for 60 minutes. Tonight, we watched what can only be described as one of the most dominant defensive performances you’ll ever see in a championship setting.
Florida held Ohio State to just over 80 yards of total offense the entire game. Think about that for a second. A Buckeyes offense that featured a Heisman Trophy quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher and a cast of dangerous receivers (though obviously far less scary without Ted Ginn Jr.) managed just one touchdown and 82 yards for the entire game. Major, major props to the Florida defense.
Do you think Charlie Strong can get a head-coaching gig now?
Florida did not do much offensively in the second half, but it did not need to. The Gators’ defense kept up the same level of suffocating pressure the entire game, holding Troy Smith to an astounding 35 passing yards. Unreal.
The clock has just ticked to 0:00 and the celebration has begun. It’s time to get down to the field and do interviews. Check back for my full column later tonight.
Ohio State's Troy Smith faced heavy pressure throughout the first half.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Wow. I feel like I’m covering the USC-Oklahoma 2005 Orange Bowl all over again -- only this time, the season-long No. 1 team, which the Trojans were that year, is the one getting absolutely humiliated.
You knew Florida’s speedy defense would cause problems for Troy Smith and Ohio State -- but never in a million years would I have predicted Smith’s halftime stat line to be: 2-of-8, 24 yards, three sacks, two turnovers. That alone gives you a pretty good explanation for Florida 34, Ohio State 14.
Florida’s front four has been even better than advertised, as the Buckeyes’ blockers have had no answer for ends Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey. That along with stifling coverage of OSU’s receivers -- losing Ted Ginn Jr. early was a huge blow -- has rendered Smith helpless. And the Gators’ offense has been equally impressive, first and foremost for its game plan. Florida presented every possible look imaginable on its first two series alone, from lining up Tim Tebow at running back, then splitting Chris Leak wide to lining up Percy Harvin everywhere imaginable. Leak could not have been more crisp and efficient for much of the half, and by limiting his throws to mostly quick outs for 5-to-7-yard gains, they’ve prevented opportunities for turnovers.
Finally, Ohio State didn’t do itself any favors by choosing to go for it on fourth-and-one from its own 29 down 24-14. Though Florida only got a field goal following its stop of Chris Wells, it was a tremendous momentum-changer that had to crush the Buckeyes’ confidence.
For Ohio State to have any chance of mounting a comeback in the second half, the Buckeyes are going to have to find a way to neutralize Florida’s pass-rushers. Smith did have success on a few running plays early, including a 13-yard scramble on the Buckeyes’ lone touchdown drive. They might want to call more inside running plays for him in the second half to neutralize the ends and potentially provide him more time when he does stay in the pocket.
It won’t matter, however, unless they’re also able to completely shut down Florida’s offense in the second half. Judging by that Tebow touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell just before halftime, I'm guessing Urban Meyer has plenty more wrinkles in store for the second half.
Florida QBs Chris Leak (left) and Tim Tebow prepare to take on an opportunistic Ohio State defense.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Greetings from the National Championship Game.
Mercifully, Jan. 8 is finally here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a wonderful time this week, as I’m sure the fans and teams have, but doesn’t it seem like this game should have been played weeks ago? Like college football season actually ended a week ago and this game is taking place in some sort of Back To The Future-like parallel season? It’s been so long since Florida or Ohio State played a football game that Bobby Petrino has actually changed jobs seven times.
As I write this, a handful of Florida players are going through warm-ups and the first fans are starting to file in to University of Phoenix Stadium. There are enough random people standing on the sideline right now to fill a whole other stadium. Let’s kick this thing off!
∙ The pregame tailgate scene at this stadium has to be one of the most unique in the country. Not only are you in the middle of the desert, but the land immediately around the venue is almost entirely undeveloped, so when we drove in this afternoon, it was literally like coming upon an oasis. Only instead of water, this oasis was filled with blond women doing gator chomps and middle-aged men in Ted Ginn Jr. jerseys.
∙ Congratulations to NCAA president Myles Brand -- this event really marks a high point for his academic reform movement. A team of student-athletes (Ohio State) that hasn’t been in class for a week is playing a “college” football game in a stadium named after a correspondence school -- and when we drove in, the Budweiser Clydsedales were strolling in front of the stadium.
∙ Interesting development regarding Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga flying to Costa Rica to meet with Pete Caroll. I can’t blame him for trying, but Carroll isn’t going anywhere, as much as people might not believe that. (Of course right now I wouldn’t blame anyone for not trusting a single thing any coach says.)
∙ From what I’ve been told, the Steve Kragthorpe-to-Louisville process is moving fairly quickly, but nothing has been finalized yet.
∙ Update: I am now standing on the sideline about 10 feet from Ohio State's receivers. As they run routes even 90 minutes before kickoff, you can feel the electricity in the stadium.
∙ That’s it for now. Look for short Blog entries at halftime and the final gun, and a full column after the game.
Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe previously worked with current Louisville AD Tom Jurich when both were at Northern Arizona.
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- What a glorious week this has been for the football coaching profession. First, Nick Saban and now Bobby Petrino have taught us if you're a good-enough coach, you'll be rewarded handsomely -- even while proving you're about as trustworthy as a 20-year-old used car.
I suppose by now I shouldn't be surprised by any coaching move, nevertheless Petrino bolting Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons, seeing as Petrino has entertained at least one offer from another suitor every year since taking over the Cardinals (Auburn in 2003, LSU and Notre Dame in '04, the Oakland Raiders in '05 and now the Falcons). But I have to admit, I was naïve enough to think that after signing a 10-year, $25 million extension last summer -- a staggering amount of money for a program only a couple years removed from Conference USA -- Petrino would take his name off the market for at least a couple years.
I thought Petrino would be somewhat grateful to Louisville AD Tom Jurich, who not only emptied the bank for him but did it despite having every reason to doubt Petrino's loyalty. Or to Cardinals fans whose patience he knows he's tested every nearly offseason. But all of that apparently went out the window upon the opportunity to double his salary -- not to mention coach Michael Vick. Petrino didn't bother to tell Jurich this was even a possibility until Sunday morning. He had also previously told people around the program that he didn't want to coach in the pros. Rrrright.
From a professional standpoint, it's hard to fault Petrino for making the move. He turned down a similarly lucrative offer from Raiders owner Al Davis a year earlier because ... well, would you want to work for Al Davis? This time, he has the chance to go work for one of the NFL's most respected owners, Arthur Blank, and coach a playoff contender.
The Falcons, for their part, just struck gold. A couple years back, I did a feature called the "Offensive Revolution" that prominently featured Petrino's offense. Though the other coaches I dissected in that piece (Urban Meyer, Mike Leach, Chris Petersen and Steve Spurrier) are all tremendous offensive minds, I considered Petrino to be at the very top of the list due to the way he mixed the spread with traditional, power running. He posted a top-10 offense all four years there. As a college follower, it's disappointing to see him go -- though I'm sure at this point, most Louisville fans are ready to say good riddance.
Petrino didn't flat-out lie to the public like Saban did. Instead, he offered the typical platitudes ("This is where my family wants to be. This is where I want to be," he said at the time of the extension), which of course he only meant until the next "place he wanted to be" came open.
But here's the difference between Saban and Petrino: For all the fuss it created, Saban's departure from the Dolphins was fairly harmless. He left behind a 6-10 team that may well be better off under whoever the franchise hires next. Petrino's departure, on the other hand, could not possibly come at a worst time for Louisville's upstart program.
Had Petrino remained the coach and both Brian Brohm and Michael Bush returned for another year, the Cardinals, coming off a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl victory, would have been prime contenders for next year's national championship. Jurich has less than a week to hire Petrino's replacement if the Cardinals have any hope of retaining the pair. "We're going to move quickly in hiring our next coach to keep our momentum going," Jurich said in a statement Sunday night.
Jurich is one of the savviest ADs in the country - and lord knows he's had time to prepare for this. Expect him to tab Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe, another renowned offensive mind who Jurich knows well, within a matter of days. Kragthorpe was the offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in the early '90s when Jurich was athletics director there.
I'd be surprised, however, if Kragthorpe's hiring is enough to convince Brohm to come back. (Bush is a different story because of his health status).
Long-term, Louisville will be just fine. The school now has the resources in place that, with the right coach, like Kragthorpe, there's no reason it won't remain one of the Big East's top programs -- and therefore a regular BCS contender -- for years to come.
But opportunities like the one the Cardinals face next season don't come around too often. Two home-grown and, by then, healthy Heisman contenders (Bush and Brohm) teamed up with Petrino? It would have been a perfect storm.
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Sunday morning marked the final press conferences for the two head coaches in Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game. As Florida’s Urban Meyer said, “We are both ready to go play a football game, and enough with press conferences -- with all due respect.” No offense taken. We the writers are ready to be done with press conferences, too.
∙ Asked about the possibility of winning a national championship in just his second season at Florida, Meyer said, “If you were to ask me a year ago [whether that could happen], no chance. No chance. If you asked me now, I think we probably should have done that because we have 21 seniors that played their best year of football.”
∙ Troy Smith always cringes when people try to compare him to Vince Young -– but his coach doesn’t have such reservations. “I was listening to [former Buckeyes and current Tennessee Titans] Donnie Nickey and Rob Reynolds talk about Vince Young when they were home for an open date,” said Jim Tressel. “They talked about how there is something special about that guy, I don't know what it is. We haven't been completing passes that high of a percentage and so forth and so on, but you just have a way of believing in him. And I think Troy has some of those same qualities.”
It should be noted that Smith’s completion percentage (67) is just fine.
∙ While many aspects of this first-ever stand-along title game are similar to a bowl experience (the teams get to stay at luxury resorts, lots of press conferences, etc.), one thing that’s been notably different is that the organizers did not bog down the two teams with the usual slew of planned activities (amusement-park outings, citrus-squeezing contests, etc.) you see at a bowl game. There was one steakhouse outing for each team. That was about it. It’s probably for the best, seeing as the participants are a little more concerned right now with that whole winning-the-national-championship thing.
“It has been all football,” said Meyer. “It’s the Super Bowl of college football, and I think college football needed that.”
∙ I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback throw 13 interceptions, as Chris Leak did this season, and still receive such universal praise from both his own team and the opponent. Don’t get me wrong -- Leak is a phenomenal passer, particularly on the run, but you would think he had Troy Smith/Brady Quinn numbers listening to some of these quotes. “I am a Chris Leak fan. I happen to think he is good,” said Tressel. “He has done it year after year. He has taken his team to an SEC championship and on to a chance to be the national champions. You look at his figures, they're extraordinary over the course of time.”
So why do I still find myself holding my breath half the time when he drops back?
∙ Meyer revealed Sunday that he’s a big Jimmy Buffet fan -- it’s the only thing on his CD player. For some reason, I can totally picture that.
∙ I think the most interesting development to come out of Saturday’s U.S. Army All-America Game is the cloud of skepticism that’s starting to surround all-everything Notre Dame QB recruit Jimmy Clausen. From what I was told by people who were there, Clausen didn’t look nearly as good as Michigan recruit Ryan Mallet. And a New York Times feature on Clausen prior to the game included several anonymous critiques from coaches questioning his attitude and level of competition in high school.
∙ The most telling moment yet of the rise of Rutgers football came during that game, when Anthony Davis -– the nation’s second-ranked tackle -– pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. His other finalist? Ohio State. And while it’s easy to chalk up Davis’ decision to the fact he lives in Rutgers’ Piscataway, N.J., backyard, it’s safe to say that if this was five years ago, Davis’ bags would have been packed for Columbus.
∙ If you’re ever in the Phoenix area, you must -- must -- dine at the Tee Pee. From the outside, it looks like any other Mexican restaurant (and there are thousands here), but the food is so good it’s taken on something of a cult following. Sitting in the booth behind us last night was a family of Ohio State fans in town from Cincinnati who first discovered the joint 20 years ago. George W. Bush ate there a couple years ago. And on the walls near the exit are plastered with autographed pictures from various B-list notables (singer Michelle Branch, a 1993 Playboy Playmate) who have dined there. The first one that caught my eye: Deposed Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter, whose inscription reads: “Go Devils! Dirk Koetter.”
Order the beef fajitas.
∙ We went from the Tee Pee to Casino Arizona, where I learned a tough lesson: Never go to a casino with three other people unless you’re the one driving. While Pete and Teddy were settling in for a long night at the poker table, I was left catching a cab back to the hotel 45 minutes later after getting my butt handed to me at blackjack.
∙ Finally, I want to send my condolences to the USC football program and the family of Trojans kicker Mario Danelo, who was found dead Saturday. What a shocking story. Let’s hope the authorities are able to figure out what happened and pray that foul play was not involved.