Thomas Bradley / Campus editor
For a 12th consecutive year, the Ohio State football team is heading to a bowl game. In Luke Fickell’s final game as head coach, OSU will take on the University of Florida in the Gator Bowl Jan. 2. Here’s a look at what the Buckeyes can expect in Jacksonville, Fla.
What will new OSU head coach Urban Meyer’s role be in helping prepare OSU for the Gator Bowl?
Meyer said Dec. 11 that he would not travel with the Buckeyes to Florida, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t helping prepare the team before it departed.
During a Dec. 4 conference call, Fickell was vague about whether Meyer would help the Buckeyes prepare for Florida, saying he would continue to focus on the coaches currently leading OSU.
“I couldn’t tell you exactly how the whole situation is going to work,” Fickell said. “I don’t know that I would sit there and explain it to anybody other than our team and coaches anyway.”
Fickell didn’t dismiss the idea that Meyer would assist the OSU players and the current coaches, so one might think it is likely he’ll have some level of input on the game plan. After all, Meyer recruited the majority of the players on Florida’s roster and is barely a year removed from coaching his former team. One could argue that no person outside of Florida’s current staff knows the Gators better than Meyer.
What Florida players could pose a threat to OSU’s defense?
The Florida offense has averaged 25.6 points per game this season which is ranked 71st nationally. Quarterback John Brantley came into Florida as a highly touted recruit and was expected to replace former Gator legend Tim Tebow, but has struggled at times moving into the offense. He’s thrown 1,912 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season.
The strength of the UF offensive attack is its speedy running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Both backs are under 5 feet 9 inches, but it’s the running backs’ agility and speed that make them a threat. The Gators try to get the ball to Rainey and Demps on the edge and aren’t afraid to utilize the two in the passing game.
Between the two of them, they have combined for 1,329 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said he’s very aware of Florida’s fast running back tandem.
“They have speed in the backfield,” Heacock said. “They changed to a pro-style offense this year and I think it’s been good for them. I think they have a little more power and they are a little more physical.”
Can the Buckeyes keep up with Florida’s speed?
When Meyer was head coach at Florida, the Gators developed a reputation for speed. It gave Florida a multitude of options on offense and a swarming mentality on defense.
OSU witnessed the danger of Florida’s speed first hand in 2007, when the Gators beat the Buckeyes, 41-14, in the BCS National Championship Game.
Will Muschamp took over as Florida’s head coach and switched the offense to more of a pro-style attack, but many of the speedy players Meyer recruited are still on the roster.
“You hope we can keep up with their speed,” Heacock said. “You never know until you get out in the game and see how we’re playing. I think we have the potential when we are moving fast and playing fast that we can match up. A lot of it has to do with attitude and the approach you take to the game.”
But, the Buckeye players believe they have enough speed of their own to matchup with the Gators.
“I think we match up (to Florida’s speed) pretty well,” freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “People may overlook us just because we’re in the Big Ten and they don’t think we are fast. But I think we have just as much speed.”
Can the Buckeyes put a happy ending on the turbulent year?
The OSU football team has been through a lot this season on and off the field. Scandals, suspensions and six losses have made this year one that many Buckeye fans would like to forget.
For the first time since 2004, OSU won’t be playing in a BCS bowl, but the Buckeye players still say they have a lot to play for.
“It would mean a lot to win this game,” senior linebacker Tyler Moeller said. “You always want to finish on top. It would give the team great morale heading into next year. And for me personally, and especially the seniors, it would be great to go out with a win in the last game.”
Expect the Buckeyes to do just that. A Buckeye defense that’s almost back to full health and maturing freshman quarterback Braxton Miller will lead the Buckeyes to a close victory over the Gators.
Final score prediction: OSU 31, Florida 27