YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A new double standard

Stunning upset makes Florida first school to hold football and basketball national titles at same time

January 09, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — What got into Florida, besides the first-rate coaching, all that halfback speed at linebacker and the fact that next-to-nobody thought the Gators could win?

Did someone mix "flubber" into the Gatorade?

Was it spillover from Idaho?

Florida played Monday night as if it had found a Boise State playbook left behind from last week's Fiesta Bowl, contested on the same University of Phoenix Stadium field, and turned all that trickery on shellshocked Ohio State.

Monday's Bowl Championship Series national championship game was supposed to be about Ohio State.

Instead, it was a Gator chomp-romp.

Florida didn't just win the game, it dominated, 41-14, before a crowd of 74,628, and now you can crown the Gators kings of college football and give Gainesville a new name: Titlesville.

Florida became the first team in NCAA history to simultaneously hold national titles in football and basketball, with a Gators baseball season still to be played.

"We're national champs," Florida quarterback Chris Leak said. "That's what you strive for, that's what you play for, ever since you were a kid, what you dream about. My legacy was to get the University of Florida back here."

Ohio State was attempting to go wire-to-wire at No. 1 to win the national championship, but all it got was trip-wired.

Ohio State scored first, on Ted Ginn Jr.'s 93-yard return of the opening kickoff, but then went gentle into the Arizona night. Ginn got hurt (unspecified right leg injury), Ohio State got behind, and Gators history got made.

Florida backup quarterback Tim Tebow put the exclamation point on this run-on sentence with a tack-on, one-yard, take-that, fourth-down, fourth-quarter touchdown run.

Florida's defense dominated, holding Ohio State to only 82 yards -- 11 fewer than Ginn covered on the kickoff return.

"You play defense like that, you don't lose," Gators Coach Urban Meyer said.

Some thought Florida didn't belong in the game and, once they got in, wouldn't win it.

"The motivation was very easy the last 30 days," Meyer said.

Remember a month ago?

After USC lost to UCLA, the Gators jumped over Michigan into the No. 2 BCS spot -- causing consternation in Ann Arbor and elsewhere.

Florida proved it belonged, and the only team with a gripe now may be the only one that finished undefeated -- 13-0 Boise State.

"Let's go play them next week," Meyer said.

Florida scored 21 consecutive points after Ginn's return, the Gators playing as if they had to be out of the stadium by halftime.

They knocked the shine off Troy Smith's Heisman Trophy. Smith was held to 35 yards passing, completing only four of his 14 attempts.

"I have to take all the blame in the world for it," said Smith, who was sacked five times.

Losing Ginn surely slowed the Buckeyes' offense, but Smith said, "That's not an excuse.

"For some reason, this was meant to happen today," he said. "You're not going to have a storybook ending all the time, that's life. After this point I think your true character comes out. This really makes you grow up."

The Gators played with, and without, their helmets.

Linebacker Earl Everett, in one of the game's telling moments, lost his hard-hat during a play early in the third quarter but still chased down, and sacked, Smith.

Chris Leak didn't win the Heisman this year but saved his best game for the last game of his collegiate career.

Criticized by many for not being the right fit for Meyer's spread offense, Leak became only the second quarterback to win a national title in Florida's 100-year football history.

Meyer joked that his and Leak's legacies will be "joined at the hip" for the next 30 years.

In his final Gators act, Leak completed 25 of 36 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown.

Ohio State, which hadn't played since Nov. 18, waited 51 days for this game and then watched its coach, down by 10 points in the second quarter, go for it (and fail) on fourth and one from his 29. Jim Tressel was supposed to be the better big-game coach -- he was 4-0 in BCS bowls -- but he didn't play this one close to his sweater vest.

Freshman tailback Chris Wells was stopped cold on the play, sort of the way Ohio State was stopped cold all night.

"It ended up being the wrong call, obviously," Tressel said.

Ohio State was supposed to be better.

It wasn't.

Florida kicker Chris Hetland, who missed nine of 13 field-goal attempts this season with a long of only 33 yards, was supposed to be a weak link.

He ended up as one of the heroes, making his first two attempts from 42 and 40 yards.

It was that kind of night.

Florida was faster and played with ferocity, and without fear.

"They looked fast on film," Ohio State center Doug Datish said, "and I guess they proved they were as fast as they looked."

The Gators' offense showed a variety of gadget plays to keep the Buckeyes defense off balance.

The only thing Florida didn't win was the opening kickoff.

One key to the game was how quickly Florida responded to Ginn's opening kickoff return.

Los Angeles Times Articles