Friday, January 05, 2007

National Championship Preview

It's you. It's me. It's the Hypothetical Interviewer 9000. Let's do this.

Um, hold on. HI9000, why are you locked in your room?

The door doesn't have a lock. It's just closed. I'm protecting myself from alligators. They have Florida speed. And SEC speed! They said that Buckeyes can't handle that sort of speed! We're all doomed!
Easy, HI9000, they weren't talking about real alligators. They were talking about the Florida Gators football team. They're - they're just people. Not man-eating reptiles.

Even worse! People have thumbs! They can open doors!
Calm down, the Florida football team is not out to get you. They're just claiming that their players are faster because they're from/playing in the southeastern part of the United States.

Well, okay. But isn't that still a problem for the national championship game?
No. We've been through this whole speed argument before. Remember the last national championship game? How our slow, plodding Buckeyes were going to get crushed by Miami, whose players were so fast that they were only visible with the aid of high-speed cameras? That one worked out okay, didn't it?

True. But we're still at a disadvantage. By the time the game rolls around, we will have gone 51 days without playing a football game. Isn't that a problem?
Ohio State's had long layoffs going into bowl games for decades. Was the long break a problem last year against Notre Dame? Or the year before, against Oklahoma State? Or the year before, against Kansas State? Or in the aforementioned national title game against Miami?

Well, no.
Exactly. With the exception of the Miami game, OSU won comfortably every year. In fact, they generally played their best football of the season. The long break hasn't been a problem under Tressel. If anything, it seems to have been an advantage.

Okay, then, the layoff doesn't matter. Give me an overview of the game.
Very superficially, Florida looks pretty similar to Michigan. A team with an outstanding defense and an offense that just gets the job done. Of course, the two teams aren't actually that similar. Florida's offense, for example, is very different from Michigan's.

Let's talk about that offense.
You already know the basics. They're running that Urban Meyer spread option offense with a quarterback, Chris Leak, who is not made for it. Running is not his thing. When he throws the ball, he's alright, but not great. He has 14 picks to his 22 touchdowns, a ratio that is not too good. His two favorite targets are Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell, who both average a bit over four receptions per game. Baker is the big play guy, but both are solid receivers.

What about running the ball?
That has been something of an adventure for the Gators. They average 160ish yards per game, which is above average NCAA-wide, but not very good in reality. Their leading rusher, DeShawn Wynn, averages less than ten carries per game. Tim Tebow, uber-recruit QB, is used pretty regularly as a running back, and averages 33 yards per game. Chris Leak, an option QB in the offense but not in reality, has 23 yards on the season. It appears to be something of a running game by committee, but with an exceptionally large and diverse committee, ranging from backup quarterbacks to wide receivers.

So is there anything to be afraid of from this offense?
Sure. They aren't outstanding running or passing, but they also aren't bad at either. It's a pretty balanced offense. That's always a concern.

But a bigger concern is Percy Harvin. He's technically a wide receiver, but he's more likely to carry the ball than catch a pass. He hasn't been used a whole lot during the season, due to injury, but he exploded the last two games of the season, particularly against Arkansas, when he finished with 105 yards rushing, 62 yards receiving, and two touchdowns. He's a big play waiting to happen.

How should the Buckeyes defend that attack?
The biggest thing they need to do is be disciplined. It's an option attack, complete with reverses and end-arounds, so the defense can't just chase after the ball, lest they be caught out of position. They will also want to be careful with blitzes, for the same reason. However, blitzes can be successful, as Florida has had some trouble with allowing sacks.

I expect a bit of a bend-don't-break defense, focused on keeping Baker and Harvin under wraps. If I were coaching, I would probably blitz selectively, focusing more on either forcing Leak into mistakes, or waiting for Florida to beat themselves (they're the second most-penalized team in the country). But then, I've been hilariously wrong on stuff like this before.

What about the Gator defense?
They've certainly put up some impressive numbers. But then, name a good SEC offense.

Well, there's LSU. . .
I'll give you them, sure.

And there's Arkansas and Tennessee.
The two teams that exploded for a combined 24 points in their bowl games? Riiiight.

I get your point. You're saying that Florida's defense is good because they've faced bad offenses?
I've made the argument before. But I'm not entirely serious. This Florida defense is very good, regardless of what you think of SEC offenses. Reggie Nelson is the big star, the safety that just destroys hapless receivers. Brandon Siler, a linebacker, is another guy to look out for.

So how do the Bucks attack these guys? Rushing? Passing? With giant battle axes? Please say we get to use axes.
Nope, sorry.

Nobody ever uses axes anymore.
I know. Anyway, running doesn't appear to be much of an option; they're sixth in the country against the run. And that number isn't even inflated much by sacks; they're just 50th in the country in sacks. Passing appears to be a better option, as they are 48th against the pass. That may be a byproduct of their rush defense, though. The Gators are 5th in pass efficiency defense, suggesting that they're actually pretty good against the pass. But I'm not sure; I haven't seen that many Florida games.

You didn't answer the question. How do we attack the Florida defense?
I'm not sure, honestly. There don't appear to be many weaknesses. True, they don't get that many sacks, but when you're sixth in the country in interceptions, getting sacks isn't such a big deal. I'm counting on Troy Smith to make plays where others couldn't. He'll have time (that sack number, again), and with him, that's translated into positive plays all season. I don't expect the run game to be a major factor, but I didn't expect that against Michigan, and Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells both broke off big touchdown runs. But yeah, basically, I'm just counting on Troy to do the things he's done all season.

Care to make a score prediction?
Nope. I did that for the basketball game against Florida, and it didn't work out so well. So I'm just keeping my fool mouth shut and not tempting the football gods. All I'll say is that I don't anticipate the blowout that many of the Buckeye faithful are predicting. Though I'd certainly be happy with it.

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