Buckeye Effort Not Fruitful in Gator Bowl
By John Porentas
You probably don't know who Sam Matta is. I didn't either until I met him today in the Gator Bowl press box.
Sam is a veteran sports writer from Pennsylvania, the kind of guy who cut his teeth covering everything from high school football to horse racing. Along the way he has seen a lot of sports and met a lot of people.
As the first half played out, I looked over at Sam and said, "Well, this looks just like two 6-6 teams slugging it out."
Sam nodded in agreement, then said, "If you want to pick oranges, you can't start by planting potatoes."
It was one of those lines that make you think, "Gee, I wish I had said that," because it perfectly summed up what happened in the Gator Bowl.
Two teams full of potato seeds were trying to produce fruit as 6-6 Ohio State and 6-6 Florida went at each other. In the end, Florida produced a couple more oranges than the Buckeyes on two special teams plays that were the difference in the game. In both cases, the Gators simply had a better player than the Buckeyes at a critical moment. As a result, they won a one-on-one battle and made the kind of big plays that win big games.
"Kickoff return, we (lost) the edge," OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell said of Andre Debose 99-yard touchdown return for a score that put Florida up 14-7.
"It comes down to one-on-one battles. There's that's what football's about. We didn't do a good enough job of winning the one-on-one battles. Ultimately you've got to get the guy down and give the defense a chance whether you get him 15 yards or give him 20 yards, that's the thing. They won the battles."
The same rang true on the punt block by Chris Raney that was eventually scooped up Graham Stewart and returned 14 yards for another Gator touchdown to make the score 21-10.
"Obviously punt-wise, they did a good job, but they beat us again," said Fickell.
"They (OSU punt team players) came off the side and the guy said that was my man, and he got by me. It was not like it was something that we didn't welcome and expect at some times. But you've got to give them credit for bringing great pressure, and winning some one-on-one battles."
There wasn't a huge difference between the Buckeyes and the Gators, but there was enough on those two plays to make the difference in the game. There were other times as well, like pretty much any time the Buckeye offense went to the passing game. The Florida defensive line was able to dominate the line of scrimmage in passing situations.
They not only sacked Braxton Miller six times but completely negated him as a runner by keeping him in the pocket and not letting him outside where he can be dangerous. Miller ended the day with a net -6 yards rushing after accounting for -34 yards in sack yardage.
The Gators defense also held sway in the secondary where Buckeye receivers just could not get open, another one of those one-on-one situations that irked Fickell.
"We've got to get some guys open. Guys got to have the opportunity to win some of those one-on-one battles," he said.
The OSU passing game didn't produce much in the way of oranges, but rather came up with more than a few lemons in the way of sacks allowed and a fumble that occurred after Miller completed a pass to DeVier Posey.
Too many lemons hurt, but in the end, it was too many potatoes that really hurt. Just a few big plays could have turned that game for the Buckeyes, but they didn't have the players to produce them. They ended up just like that potato farmer trying to squeeze sweet juice out of a muddy tuber.
The effort might be there, but it just isn't going to happen.
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