Fri Jan 09 08:20am EST
Florida 24, Oklahoma 14. I haven't read any other opinions, but I know the radio is describing this game as "sloppy" and "a dud." I don't agree. The test in a championship game is almost always which of two irresistible forces looks the most like itself, executing on its terms, on exactly the plan and plays that carried it into the game in the first place. Florida, finally, was the team here that danced with what brung 'em, and the fact that the Gators had to feel their way out from the better part of three quarters has to make it that much more satisfying for Urban Meyer in the end.
That's not to suggest the Gators were overwhelming on offense; for the bulk of the game, that wasn't true at all. For all the piling on "Big 12 defenses," Oklahoma, which came in allowing more points per game than all but two SEC teams, held Florida to its lowest point total of the season -- six points less than anyone in the SEC managed -- and became the first team to force Tebow into two interceptions. Overall, I thought the first half was one of the worst of Tebow's career as a passer -- baited into the pair of ugly picks, with only seven points on the board -- and if not for a pair of stands by the Gator defense inside the 10-yard line, Oklahoma threatened to run away with the thing.
At the half, Florida hadn't established anything on offense and the pace of the game was beginning to favor the Sooners, whose hurry-up attack had reeled off 38 snaps with marches of 65 and 74 yards in the second quarter, in just over two minutes apiece. They were running effectively between the tackles and the no-huddle seemed to have the Gator D a little winded and on its heels. The score was only 7-7, but barring the killer red zone turnovers, Oklahoma looked more like Oklahoma.
What makes the second half (and the fourth quarter, in particular) such a triumph for Meyer's offense is that the gameplan seemed to change dramatically -- from a very spread-y spread that balanced running and passing at almost exactly 50:50 and regularly passed on first down in the first half to a patient, run-oriented single wing that heavily emphasized the option in "spread option" -- and still hit every note. Florida is so diverse and has so many weapons, almost anything on a very wide spectrum can qualify as "what brung 'em." But if you wanted to see "the Florida Offense" as most of the SEC has known it all season, you only needed to see the Gators' three second half scoring drives:
This was really Florida being Florida: Tebow barreling ahead, Harvin (my most outstanding player, voters be damned) gashing into the secondary on misdirection runs out of the shotgun, Demps hitting the corner on the speed option, Hernandez hitting the seam on that sweet shovel pass that replaces the old fullback dive (this play, which worked twice down the stretch, is counted as a run in the above chart), the goal line jump pass for the knockout. And Tebow delivering when necessary with his arm, most notably on a 17-yard strike to Riley Cooper on 3rd-and-12 that kicked the icing touchdown drive into gear. That march, an 11-play, 76-yard marathon that milked 6:53 off the clock, should be playing on a permanent loop in Meyer's mansion for the rest of his life, right next to the 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that moved the chains almost exclusively on Tebow runs.
Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had the worst game of his season -- two sacks, no big plays and two interceptions, one of them an ice pick to the temple at the goal line at the end of the first half, after all the accolades for OU's unreal red zone efficiency -- and didn't have anywhere else to turn in the second half. This is in large part because he wasn't on the field; the Gators held the ball for 9 minutes in the third quarter, 11 minutes in the fourth. After the Sooners tied the game on a 77-yard touchdown drive to open the final frame, UF ran 23 plays for 157 yards and scored 10 points. Oklahoma ran eight plays for 21 yards and turned it over twice.
Florida's defense was outstanding, of course, holding the Sooners 200 yards and 40 points below their scalding season averages. But Bradford had no chance to answer Tebow's late heroics, because he was on the sideline, watching it while the seconds ticked away on OU's season (and possibly his career). You know: The best defense is a flexible offense.