With his Florida
teammates rejoicing below him, Chris Leak mounted the stage and acknowledged
the blue-and-orange-clad mob chanting beyond the south end zone. In short order
he would accept the trophy presented to the MVP of the BCS Championship Game.
The 41--14 thumping of Ohio State had finally made an honest man of Leak, who
as a cocksure high school senior in January 2003 stood before television
cameras vowing his allegiance to Florida and predicting a kind of Gator Golden
Age of multiple SEC and national championships. Three years later, exactly none
of those titles had come to pass.
Even though Leak
had thrown for 11,000 yards and 87 touchdowns entering Monday night's game, he
had never fully captured the heart of Gator Nation. But then he took the field
in the biggest game of his life and put on a show that sent a message to a
national TV audience at the expense of his Buckeyes counterpart, a dazed and
confused Troy Smith: This is how it's done.
performance--25 for 36 for 213 yards with one touchdown and no
interceptions--was a masterpiece of equitable distribution. He completed passes
to six receivers; handed off, pitched or otherwise dispatched the ball to four
rushers; and kept the Buckeyes' defense off-balance all night.
More stunning than
Ohio State's failure to stop (or even slow) Florida was the woeful showing by
Smith, who completed 4 of 14 passes for 35 yards, with an interception and a
fumble. He might as well have had his 25-pound Heisman Trophy tucked under his
jersey for all the success he had escaping Gators defensive ends Derrick Harvey
and Jarvis Moss, who combined for five sacks.
check this out!" coach Urban Meyer shouted at Harvey, pointing to a stat
sheet as they exited the postgame press conference. "Eighty-two! They had
82 yards of total offense!"
How could that
happen? How could a team that had looked so bulletproof through an unbeaten
regular season--ranked No. 1 since season's start and the winner of 19 straight
games--be made to look so pedestrian on the brink of its second national title
in five years?
It wasn't that
complicated, Gators senior linebacker Brian Crum explained after the game:
"This is a fast-ass team."
Thanks to the
double-hosting model conceived by the solons of the BCS, Monday night's matchup
was played at the same site--University of Phoenix Stadium--where one week
earlier Boise State had staged its trickeration-intensive upset of Oklahoma in
the Fiesta Bowl. (Apparently those same wise men consulted the Department of
Redundancy Department to come up with the ungainly title: Tostitos Bowl
Championship Series National Championship.) Florida's victory confirmed that
this five-month-old, barrel-cactus-shaped dome in the Phoenix suburb of
Glendale is indeed a friendly place for underdogs and imaginative, risk-taking
Riding shotgun in
a TBCSNC-supplied SUV on his way to practice last Friday, Meyer tipped his hand
ever so slightly, acknowledging that at least one matchup would not favor his
Gators--his offensive line against the Buckeyes' vaunted defensive front four.
"That's their strength," Meyer said. "Just running right at 'em--I
don't think we can do that."
In truth the
prospect of not being able to establish an inside running game wasn't a concern
of Florida's second-year coach, who in a career that includes recent stops at
Bowling Green and Utah never has been big on conventional methods for gaining
yards. That his top rusher gained only 630 yards in the regular season and the
second- and third-leading ground gainers were a pair of true freshmen who
didn't play running back (wideout Percy Harvin and quarterback Tim Tebow) was
testament to the absence of a top-shelf feature back. It also speaks to the
resourcefulness and cunning of Meyer, whose objective has always been to get
the ball in the hands of his playmakers--whoever they are and by any means