Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Game

As I am leaving tomorrow for Vegas (Viva!), blog posts between now and The Game will be brief, if at all.

What I have to say next won’t make many of my fellow Gator fans happy. Know that I say it as a total Gator homer, a longtime fan and donor who has attended in excess of 200 Gator games in person. I bleed Orange & Blue.

I also think Ohio State is going to win this game.

I don’t want it to happen. I am going to cheer my freakin’ head off, hope, pray, and swear it doesn’t happen.

But I am a realist, and 22 some years of watching Gator games have made me that way. I was there for the 1980’s; I was at Nebraska in 1995, at FSU in 1996, the Orange Bowl in 2003, hell I was even at Mississippi State when Zook got himself canned in 2004.

I went to Tallahassee 8 consecutive times before getting my first win there (but I did get to see the 31-31 tie!).

What currently gives me hope is that Florida has played - and beaten - a far better team in LSU than Ohio State faced this year. That LSU team that shut down Notre Dame last night, while scoring 41 on them, could only manage to score 10 points against the Gators.

Were I to rank a composite of our opponents, I think we could fairly say the following -

1. LSU
2. Auburn
3. Michigan
4. Arkansas
5. Texas
6. Penn State
7. Tennessee
8. Georgia

Of course, the Gators lost to the second team on this list, but it was close, and in very hostile territory. Texas, OSU’s big early season victory, proved itself not as capable as first thought with 2 latter loses. Arkansas proved much the same.

Much has been made of Wisconsin’s victory over Arkansas, but it is entirely irrelevant to an analysis between Ohio State and Florida, as the Buckeye’s did not play the Badgers. Of the top 8 teams “we” played, I think Florida has faced the tougher group.

I also take some solace in the fact that Florida held LSU to 10 points, and Auburn to essentially 20 (barring that last second junk TD). Florida’s defense did not give up a single TD to Auburn in the game. Michigan, on the other hand, scored 39 on Ohio State (with 7 of that being a meaningless late TD also).

Why then do I think the Gators will lose?

Troy Smith.


Statistically, Troy Smith is not the best QB in the nation - but he is darn close. Smith is ranked 3rd (or 4th if you count Russell’s game last night) nationally.

However, there is no doubt that Troy Smith is the best Quarterback in this game. Chris Leak is a respectable 21st in QB rating nationally, but lacks the skills of Smith, especially the mobility. Smith runs the OSU offense like a machine, and he has 3 full years under Tressel’s system. Leak, in two years under Meyer’s system, has at times seemed very ill suited to run the offense. And Leak has the propensity to make the big mistake, like the shuttle pass against Arkansas. Or, more damagingly, the late interception against Auburn when we could have driven the field for the win. Smith seems to avoid such meltdowns.

One statistic in particular reveals the definite edge Ohio State has over Florida - the so called Scoring Offense statistic. The stat is somewhat misleading, as it simply takes points scored bya team, and divides them by games played. In other words, in includes points scored by or against special teams, and points scored by defense.

In total offense (as measured by yards a game), Florida and Ohio State are nearly identical, at 410 yards per game for OSU and 398 for Florida. However, it is the aforementioned Scoring Offense stat where the problem shows up.

Florida ranks 32nd in Scoring Offense a game, with 28.8 points per game. Ohio State, on the other hand, ranks 7th with 36.3.

When the yard totals are nearly identical, where does the 7.5 points per game less for Florida come from?

Mistakes on offense and special teams, that’s where. How many times has Florida’s offense drove the field to have Hetland miss an easy kick? Or Leak committed a turnover at an inopportune time? (Fumble or not at Auburn, that was bad ball handling).

Simply put, Troy Smith handles the ball better than Chris Leak, and OSU’s special teams are less prone to error than Florida’s.

Regardless, I will root like never before for our Gators, hoping this analysis is wrong, looking for the big break, praying Meyer has devised a game plan to get the win.

Statistically, both teams will be facing the best offense in the other team they have seen all year. And, contrary to what many believe, I think this will be a low scoring game, as the most overlooked strength of OSU is their defenses.

Finally, despite any rhetoric to the contrary, both teams and fans should know this very well - the best team either will face this year will be the team on the opposite sideline come Monday night.

Two great programs, playing for the first time ever, in the BCS Title Game.

May it be a game of legendary stature, a game for the ages.

Go Gators!

9 comments:

d.tensor said...

I'm not so sure. As a Buckeye fan, I've watched the Buckeyes a fair amount this season. I think the Florida offense is comparable to Michigan (who put quite a few points up)- veteran quarterback, good receivers, and with Percy Harvin instead of Hart. Harvin is one I really worry about. The OSU linebackers/secondary can be picked on. Turnovers will be needed (by OSU)to keep Florida in check.

Yes, Troy can be exceptional but the key is the OSU offensive line versus Florida defense. The receivers are deep and good but not unstoppable (in a Calvin Johnson/Dwayne Jarret sense)- Ginn is fast but has been known to drop a ball. They'll need time to get open - not clear if they'll get it, even with Troy's running/scrambling ability.

The Penn State/OSU game, which was very close until a couple of last-minute interceptions, might be an indication [yes, bad weather, but still]. Unlike the Illinois game, I think OSU was focussed - Penn State beat them last year.

High-powered offenses are funny things and can get out of whack easily. All it takes is one or two rushed/bad passes or a few dropped balls. Tough and well-tested defenses don't, usually.

Edge: Florida.

The OSU running game might play a significant role.

Interesting to see which freshman does better: Harvin (Florida) or Wells (OSU).

jimcaserta said...

I can't believe after watching all the bowl games so far, you think OSU will win, or even mention them in the same breath as the 95 Nebraska team. Arkansas outplayed Wisconsin, outgained them almost 2-1, but it was like they looked at the scoreboard in the 4th quarter and thought, "shit, we're not winning."

The key to the game is not OSU, but the Gators. If we are even or up on kick blocking, and Leak plays a relatively mistake free game, the Gators roll. We control our destiny.

UF's run defense is solid, so the pressure will be on Smith, and by pressure I mean Moss, Harvey, McDonald & Co. UF will score on OSU - cmon, Michigan scored 5 TD's.

I've been burned by high expectations also, but going into this season, I predicted a one-loss, and at Auburn (a tough place for Gators). Meyer will have them prepared and the physicality of the defense's front 7, and the speed on offense will challenge OSU's defense.

I'd lay big money on Harvin getting 20+ touches and outgaining Wells by 100+ yards.

Mergz said...

Jim,

I intended no comparison to the Nebraska game, other than to establish that I was there. This game, if we lose, I think will be much, much closer than the line.

I think we may see a real great college game here. I don't think it will be what the pundits want - high scoring - but it will be great.

After last year's defenseless nonsense, a 17-14 game would be fantastic.

Go Gators

jimcaserta said...

One difference between us is that you're a realist, and I'm a dreamer. The past 3 years I've had the Gators winning it all in my NCAA b-ball pool, to be rewarded this year.

I've seen the Gators lose to teams they should have beaten, lose heartbreakers, but also beat teams they really had no business beating: 2003 LSU, 2002 UGA, 1997 FSU. This year's OSU team is not as good as any of those 3, and this gator team is as good (97) or much better (02, 03) than those gator teams.

The game will come down to how the gators play. I'm (maybe dreaming) expecting their most intense game of the year, and the most gambling play calling, which I expect will catch OSU a little off-guard. We need to avoid the 2nd half let-down and stay aggressive on offense.

What's the going rate for tix?

Mike said...

Welcome to the dark side Mergz... just kidding. :)

Jim, with all due respect, I think you are living a fantasy. I don't predict a blowout by any stretch of the imagination and a huge game like this swings on emotion from minute to minute so anything is possible, but if you honestly believe Ohio State isn't any better than the three teams you mention Florida beating (in the past no less), you are straight up high. I live in Florida and have seen all but one Buckeyes game and 8 Gators games this season and wonder what the hell you have been watching this year.

"If Leak plays a mistake free game." Well, how often does that happen? And the mere mention of such a scenario shows you don't believe it's possible or you would proclaim confidence in his ability to have such a game. I say with 100% confidence, Troy Smith will not lose this game for Ohio State.

"Arkansas outplayed Wisconsin" and LOST. Why? Because they were undicsiplined, outcoached, and couldn't stop the underneath crossing pattern. Tennessee lost because they were undisciplined and couldn't stop the run. Leads me to believe they were also outcoached. See a theme?

And please spare me the "Michigan scored 5 TD against them" rhetoric. We gave Michigan the ball twice inside the 20 yard line, so take away those 14 and factor in that we held them under 400 total yards and the score doesn't tell the whole story does it? BTW, South Carolina rolled up more yards on your great defense than Michigan did on ours. Something to ponder...

I have to ask, do you think you can stop all of our weapons? Stuff Pittman? Great, but can you do that AND cover 4 WRs at the same time? Not likely. Get pressure on Smith and he scrambles out of the pocket. Play two deep zone and Pittman runs wild. (BTW your 100+ yards more than Wells is really daring on your part considering Wells is the backup and might get 5 touches the whole game...). Think about this...you knew Arkansas was one dimensional and you stopped them from doing that, yet they were able to put 28 points on the board against you. If you stopped them from doing what they do best and they still scored 4 TDs, what in the world will our offense do to you?

Bottom line is OSU has been there done that. Tressel is a master when he has more than a week to prepare for someone, so I give him that edge. That is not to take anything away from Meyer, who has done a great job as well but Tressel knows what it takes to win a championship (5 of them actually) and has a veteran team to work with. Let's talk discipline...you rank #2 in the country in penalties. OSU will feast on that. Kicking game? Punters are a wash IMO, but your PK has hit a whopping 30% of his field goals, none longer than 33 yards. In a big game, that is excpected to be close, that spells D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R. Turnovers? Leak averaged more than one a game while Smith only turns it over once every 2.5 games. The odds are in favor of that trend continuing. We lost the turnover battle to Michgian 3-1 and still won. Think Florida can walk that tight rope and beat us? Think hard now...

You throw out things like Leak needs to avoid turnovers, you need to avoid the second half letdown, stay agreesive on offense and be intense. That's a hell of a lot of "IFs" for you to win when all Ohio State has to do is play their game.

Not such a pretty picture when it's all laid out on the table for you is it Jim. Dreamer, yes? Logical? No.

Best of luck to you and let us know how that dreams works out for you...

jimcaserta said...

We'll all watch the dream next Monday. Rational thought takes all the fun out of being a fan. I don't expect UF to blow out OSU, Meyer's Gators haven't blown out any opponent of consequence. My point is that OSU v. UF will look at lot more like BSU v. OU, than either of the two 2nd half snoozers of LSU v. nd, or USC v. mich.

OSU will be the best team UF has played all season, and UF will be the best team OSU has faced. I expect a slugfest as each team has multiple weapons on offense, will have a strong game-plan, and both coaches have balls-of-sttel and will gamble when needed.

jimcaserta said...

By my logic 41-14 is a 27 point win, 370-82 is a better than 4x outgaining on offense, one team looked totally flat and like it had no game plan, which adds up to a thumpin.

"You throw out things like Leak needs to avoid turnovers (check), you need to avoid the second half letdown (check), stay agreesive on offense and be intense (check). That's a hell of a lot of "IFs" for you to win when all Ohio State has to do is play their game." Wow, they covered all those "IFs", and what did they end up doing - kicking ass.

"I have to ask, do you think you can stop all of our weapons?" We stopped them better than I thought, but "the pressure will be on Smith, and by pressure I mean Moss, Harvey, McDonald & Co." Oh, 5 sacks, a fumble and INT by Smith.

OK, so Harvin only outgained Wells by 70 yards, but 14 touches made him the #2 man on the offense.

UF did play their best game of the season, and it looked like OSU didn't watch any game film. On both offense and defense, OSU had no answers to anything UF did. Now, OSU didn't underestimate the Gators at all did they? All the "logic" in the press only inspired the Gators more.

jimcaserta said...

Great insight Tensor: "the key is the OSU offensive line versus Florida defense."

d.tensor said...

Unfortunately (for me), my pre-game analysis was somewhat correct (as Jim notes, although possibly with a touch of sarcasm). Florida did have the edge.

Harvin clearly outperformed Wells although his averages (4.4,6.7) were not as spectacular as I had feared [considerably lower than in the SEC championship game, for example].

Kudoes to:
- Chris Leak
- Chris Hetland
- the entire Florida defense
- Urban Meyer for not running the score up in the second half.

Wells and the OSU running game was significant, especially when they failed to convert 4th and inches.
I had expected/hoped for more.
But they did do better than the passing game.

As far as I could tell, the biggest single difference between the two teams wasn't game plan, under-estimation, or even physical ability. It was heart.