Ohio State vs. Florida Preview
By Tony Gerdeman
Ohio State's long bowl history with the SEC gets another chapter written this season as the Buckeyes (6-6) matchup with the Florida Gators (6-6) in the 2012 Gator Bowl.
The meeting will be just the second between the two schools, who last met in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, which Florida won 41-14.
With last season's Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas being vacated, the Buckeyes once again enter bowl season with an 0-9 bowl record against the SEC.
Ohio State is 19-22 in bowl games, dating all the way back to the 1921 Rose Bowl. This will be the Buckeyes' second trip to the Gator Bowl, with the first coming in 1978 and resulting in a day that would live forever in Ohio State infamy.
Florida is 19-19 all-time in bowl games, including a 7-6 mark against the Big Ten. This will be the ninth Gator Bowl for the Gators, where they currently have a 6-2 record.
Florida has played in 18 January bowl games since 1993, which is the most in the nation. Ohio State has played in 16, which is the second-most in the nation.
The Big Ten is 1-5 in the Gator Bowl all-time.
When Florida Has The Ball
Florida lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to Kansas a few weeks ago, which may or may not be a bad thing for the struggling Gators offense.
Running backs coach Brian White will call the plays for Florida, and while the offense should still do what it has done all season, it might look a little different here and there simply because that's what happens in bowl games.
The Gators run a pro-style offense, but do it mostly out of the shotgun, pistol and single-back formations. With Weis, the running backs and tight ends were as much, if not more, of the passing game than the receivers. That will probably change a bit this time around, especially if Ohio State's cornerbacks continue to give large cushions before the snap.
Florida threw for 190.2 yards per game this season, which isn't much. Quarterback John Brantley, who missed two games with injuries, threw for 1,912 yards with ten touchdowns and six interceptions this season. His passing efficiency of 140.00 put him 39th in the country overall.
Because of Weis' love of screen passes and dump offs, Brantley had some fairly accurate passing games this season, but when asked to go down field he can have some issues. Even when he's accurate, that doesn't necessarily mean that his wide receivers will come up with the ball, as they've had hands issues all season.
In fact, of the top six pass catchers on the team, only two are receivers. Receiver Deonte Thompson is third on the team with 19 receptions for 237 yards and Andre Debose is fifth with 15 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Both are very dangerous with the ball, but Thompson has trouble catching it, and Debose has trouble being found.
Cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby match up very well with the Gator receivers, but Howard can't lose concentration or else Debose will run right by him.
If starting safety Orhian Johnson is not able to go—and right now it looks like he won't be—then the miscommunications that have struck the Ohio State secondary all season long will become an even larger concern. If a cornerback is handing off a receiver to a safety, everybody in the defensive backfield better know it, or else it's going to be a touchdown.
Tailback Chris Rainey has seen time all over the field this season for Florida, and his 28 receptions leads the team. He is dangerous as an outlet receiver everywhere, but especially in the middle of the field where he can split a defense and hit a homerun instantly. Ohio State won't have linebackers who can track him down, so they won't be able to afford any missed tackles in the open field.
Tight ends Jordan Reed (28 receptions) and Trey Burton (19 receptions) are two major factors of the Florida offense that will need to produce. However, if the Buckeyes focus too much on the tight ends, they could allow big plays from the receivers and running backs. It might be best to just let the Gators try to win this with their tight ends.
The Ohio State pass rush has been lacking this season, but if they can ramp it up in this game, Brantley will reward them. The Gators are allowing nearly two sacks per game, so there is a vulnerability here. Defensive end John Simon needs to play like a First Team All-American, instead of the Third Team All-American he was.
Florida doesn't run the ball all that well, averaging just 144 yards rushing per game. They are equipped with mostly speed backs who don't necessarily thrive on running between the tackles. They will likely come into this game with an adjusted attitude and a determination to run some power football, but the Buckeyes can't let it happen.
Rainey led the Gators in rushing this season with 790 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but he scored just twice on the ground. Jeff Demps finished second with 539 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. They are both tremendously fast, but can't necessarily power through a sound tackle.
The Ohio State linebackers have had their issues all season long with tackling. Things got a little bit better when freshman Ryan Shazier was inserted into the lineup, however. He is still recovering from a knee injury, but is expected to play the weakside for the Buckeyes. Andrew Sweat, the starter on the weak side most of the season, will move to the middle, which will finally get Ohio State's two best linebackers on the field together.
The Florida special teams have a few question marks. They haven't done anything in the way of punt returns yet this season, averaging just 5.8 yards per return. Kick returns are a little better. Demps has a 99-yard touchdown return, and Debose has a 63-yarder to his credit as well. Ohio State's long kick return given up this season is just 42 yards. The long punt return is 24 yards.
Place-kicker Caleb Sturgis has a big leg, having made a 55-yard field goal this season. He's 21-25 overall on field goals, and 28-28 on extra points. The Gators have split their punting duties between freshman Kyle Christy and senior David Lerner. Christy has been the more impressive of the two, averaging 41.3 yards per punt with a long of 67 yards.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
The Buckeyes come into this game with the 107th-ranked offense in the nation, averaging a paltry 319.75 yards of total offense per game. Florida's defense, meanwhile, ranks ninth in the nation, allowing just 299.58 yards of total offense per game. This is not a good combination for Ohio State.
The Gators tend to a play a standard 4-3 defense, but they will switch it around as they get a feel for what the Buckeyes are—or aren't—doing. They don't do a ton of blitzing, but the youth at quarterback for Ohio State may dictate that they do just that.
The key to stopping the Buckeyes' offense will be stopping the run, and Florida is allowing 132.33 yards rushing per game, which is only 39th in the nation. They have allowed four 100-yard rushers this season, including 133 yards to Furman running back Jerodis Williams.
The Buckeyes are rushing for 195 yards per game, and for the last five games, half of that number is coming from quarterback Braxton Miller. He has rushed for at least 99 yards in four of his last five games, and scored seven times in those five games.
Miller has rushed for at least 83 yards in six of his nine starts this season, and is a threat to break a long run at any moment. He has had a run of at least 24 yards in seven of his last eight games.
Miller will make some plays in this game, but the Gator linebackers Johnathan Bostic and Jelani Jenkins will be keying on the speed option out of the pistol formation, which is his bread and butter. Expect at least one deep touchdown pass completed on a play-action out of this look as a way to keep the Florida defense a little honest with this look—and don't be surprised if it happens the very first time the Buckeyes show it.
If Miller doesn't rush for at least 60 yards in this game, that will likely mean that the Gators sacked him too many times for the Buckeyes to come away with the win.
Starting running back Boom Herron missed the first six games of the season due to a suspension, but tore out of the gate once he was eligible, rushing for an average of 138.3 yards per game over his first three games. In his last three games, however, he has only rushed for a total of 181 yards. The Buckeyes need to re-establish Herron in this game, or get the ball to backup Carlos Hyde and try to establish the run that way.
With this being the last game at Ohio State for offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, there is really no reason to hold anything back. Expect to see a continuation of the semi-aggressive offense that was seen against Michigan. If Florida is going to play eight men in the box—and they will—then Miller will have to continue going deep to back the Gators off of the line.
Ohio State finished 116th in the nation in sacks allowed, so while the Gators don't necessarily get after the quarterback a great deal, that won't necessarily matter in this game. They will come after Miller in waves, in hopes of forcing mistakes and disrupting Ohio State's timing. The Buckeyes need to protect Miller better than they have in months if they want to win this game.
The Gators have started a nickel defense more often than not, but it remains to be seen how they'll view Ohio State's offensive attack. They will probably go with three linebackers until they can no longer afford to do so.
Expect to see receiver Devier Posey play a large part in Ohio State's offensive attack in this game. He is their best offensive player and needs to touch the ball as much as Bollman can bring himself to call for it. However, the Buckeyes have never been a great receiver screen team, so don't be surprised to see them force the ball to Posey with little success. They need to let him run downfield and the offensive line will need to give Miller time to find him. It will then be up to Miller to prove himself a more accurate quarterback than he was all season.
The Gators have a very talented secondary and have mixed and matched starters all season, but the Buckeyes still have more than enough talent to find themselves open downfield.
There will be some wrinkles put in by the Buckeyes in this game, and expect one of them to be the intended increased usage of the tight end. Miller will look for him, but it will still be up to him to get open.
Also expect a trick play or two at some point, and don't be surprised to see Braxton Miller catching a pass on a throw back play.
The Ohio State special teams will play a large part in this game, and they'll need all of the field position they can get. The Buckeyes have done little in the way of punt or kick returns in the second half of the season, so they will need to do a much better job in this area.
Ohio State's ability to cover their kicks has been a strength this season, and that will have to continue. Punter Ben Buchanan has had a very solid season, limiting returns and pinning teams inside the 20-yard line on a near-constant basis.
Place-kicker Drew Basil is 15-18 on field goals this season, with a long of 47 yards. His lone missed extra point in 35 attempts came in an overtime loss at Purdue.
How It Will End Up
The Ohio State defense will be fairly confident coming into this game because the Gators turn the ball over nearly one more time than their opponent per game. They will be looking to add to that number, and will likely send a few blitzes Brantley's way to try and make that happen.
However, they can't get themselves put into one-on-one positions with Rainey or Demps, because that will be a losing battle all day long.
The Buckeyes should come out as aggressive on offense as they do on defense. How successful they are with that plan will dictate how long they stick with it. If Braxton Miller is making the throws, there will be no reason to go away from it.
The Gators have a very good defense, but Miller is the definition of a difference maker. He's not yet polished, but the gleam seeps through. He will be the difference in this game, and for the second year in a row the Buckeyes will notch their first-ever bowl victory over an SEC opponent.
Ohio State 24 - Florida 17
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