Monday, January 08, 2007

I'm too nervous to be clever...

After what seems like a couple months worth of waiting, the National Championship will be decided tonight in Glendale, AZ. After all this time and buildup, I feel like I could write a 400 page dissertation on tonight’s matchup and all its possibilities. Alas, I am at work and do not have the time nor the inclination to do as such. Hell, I can barely contain myself enough to finish putting together this post, so overrun is my body and mind with adrenaline, nervousness and anticipation. Today is a day unlike any I can remember as a sports fan. I’ve had teams playing for championships before but none who I follow so fervently as the University of Florida Football team, especially this incarnation. These next 6 hours are going to be among the longest of my adult life as all I really want is for this damn game to get started already. In the words of Sir Smoke-a-Lot, “I can’t take this shit no mo!”

My mental approach to this game has been different from my normal state of mind when it comes to Gator football. Normally, I’m nervous about playing the likes of Alabama or Ole Miss, yet, I’ve been remarkably calm in the face of the Ohio State juggernaut for the entirety of the lead up to this game. I even described my mindset to my brother-in-law over the holidays as “quietly confident”. That all changed less than an hour ago when a bad omen of historical proportions reared its ugly head. Allow me to explain:

This is (arguably) the football biggest game for the University of Florida since December 2001 when the #2 ranked Gators took on the University of Tennessee for a chance to play in the SEC Championship game and (possibly) the Rose Bowl. On the morning of that game, I awoke and began to let my dog out to use the bathroom. As I walked out my front door I reached back to grab the door and close it behind me. One problem: I had already swung the door shut. As I reached back, the door slammed shut on my unsuspecting finger. Immediately, I screamed various obscenities as my finger turned black and blue while throbbing uncontrollably. I would be in significant pain all day and Florida would lose one of the more heartbreaking games I ever personally witnessed. As I said later that evening, “I should’ve known that this was going to be a bad day.”

Fast forward to this afternoon. I went to the gym to workout on my lunch break, as I prepared to do a set of curls, I reached down to adjust the height of the preacher curl. As I did this, my hand slipped, and the arm rest came flying down…right on my finger. I jumped back, screamed and obscenity or two and them looked down at my hand to find it had already turned black and blue and (as a bonus) had also been sliced open and begun to bleed. Are you kidding me? What are the goddamned odds of this happening today, of all days? The only solace that I can take from this painful and disgusting coincidence is this: This time, I injured the ring finger on my left hand, which is the very same finger that would serve as the resting place for a National Championship ring. Hey, when the gods are clearly trying to fuck with you, you’ll take whatever you can get.

Now, back to the actual game and the people who actually have an effect on its outcome. I have chosen to focus on three key elements that will go a long way towards determining who ends up holding that crystal football by sometime after midnight tonight. These three categories are: X-Factors, Exploitable Weaknesses & Must Avoids.

X-Factors

For X-Factors, I’ve chosen players who are somewhat overlooked by your average media scribe. You won’t see guys like Antonio Pittman or Percy Harvin in here because, well, that’s too easy.

Florida: Jemalle Cornelius

He’s the forgotten man in UF’s receiving corps. Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell get more balls thrown their way and Percy Harvin is the player whom you have to indentify whenever he’s on the field, but its Cornelius who holds the key to UF’s passing game tonight. He leads UF in yards per catch and is tremendously effective working from the slot. He struggled with an ankle injury late in the year but should be fully recovered by now and able to find room working against a solid but vulnerable OSU secondary.

OSU: Quinn Pitcock

Though he’s an All-American and probably the best player on the Buckeye defense, Pitcock seems to fade in the background on the OSU team so full of recognizable names and interesting storylines. However, without Pitcock the OSU linebackers wouldn’t have had nearly the kind of production that they’ve enjoyed this year. Furthermore, Pitcock must be able to effectively handle double teams AND occasionally disrupt plays in the Gator backfield in order to allow OSU to use their linebackers in coverage against Florida’s backs & receivers in the passing game as well as in containment of the Gators many options variations. If Pitcock cannot be a disruptive force then the Buckeye defense will be forced to use their LBs in the blitz which will limit OSU’s ability to change their defensive looks.

Exploitable Weaknesses

Florida: O-Line

OSU has a big, bruising Defensive line. While Florida has seen a number of talented d-line units throughout the year (LSU, UGA, Auburn) none have been as physical as the Buckeye line. If Ohio State can force UF into a one dimensional game plan (either through penalties or negative yardage plays) then the Buckeye defense will be able to disregard the misdirection plays and go after Chris Leak nearly every down. Florida must be able to protect Leak and keep the Buckeyes off balance if they’re going to be able to move the ball consistently against this OSU defense.

OSU: Secondary

OSU’s secondary has been its weakness all season long. I actually picked Michigan to beat OSU based on the fact that I didn’t believe that the Buckeye secondary could consistently stop Mario Manningham and the rest of the Wolverine receivers. While OSU did an adequate job in that matchup, they are going to face the most talented, and fastest receiver corps they’ve seen all year. Florida needs to spread the field and force OSU to matchup with their many talented receivers. If Florida is successful doing this, it may be in the Gators’ best interest to go with a more pass heavy gameplan in the second half, similar to what they ran against FSU or (more recently) what USC employed against Michigan.

Avoid at All Costs

Florida: Crippling mistake

For a team that is 12-1, there have been an awful lot of these types of play for the Gators this season. It’s become a running joke amongst Gator faithful that every game will include at least one shockingly awful decision from Chris Leak that directly leads to a turnover, or worse. While Leak has had some of the more memorable gaffes this season, he’s far from the only culprit. In Florida’s only loss of the season, three separate plays (Steve Rissler’s Holding penalty/Safety, Eric Wilbur’s blocked punt and TD return and, of course, Leak’s fumble at the Auburn 6) all conspired to steal a victory away from the Gators on a night when they didn’t even allow a offensive TD.

OSU: Turnovers

All year long, OSU has been able to avoid giving the ball away. The only way that Michigan was able to climb back into the game against the Buckeyes was through a couple of sloppy second half turnovers. This propensity for holding onto the ball has been a keystone of the Jim Tressel era in Columbus. Tressel’s OSU teams have thrived on playing sound defense, not turning the ball over and eventually wearing teams down with a consistent offensive gameplan. While this version of the Buckeyes is far more explosive than any of its prior incarnations, it effectiveness still lies in its ability to break other teams’ collective will by not allowing them second and third chances to remain in the game. Florida’s defense has been opportunistic all year long, tonight they’ll have to make the most of any and all opportunities presented to them.

As always, I’ll hold off on any predictions for this evening’s contest. I know it’s the biggest game I’ve ever been a part of as an alumnus of the University of Florida and I know that it’s not a night I’ll soon forget. Beyond that…I don’t have a clue what to expect.



Do the Gators have just a little more magic left in them? I sure hope so.

25 comments:

TJ said...

TEBOW SMASH

I wonder what Socks and Roberto are doing for the game?

Mark said...

Socks will be at the San Fran Gator Club, I'm sure. As for Roberto, your guess is as god as mine...

Mark said...

TEBOW SMASH...TEBOW SCORE!!!

Greg said...

First of all, you shouldn't be doing preacher curls. And here's why: the biceps are isolated and develop more than the stabilizing muscles in the shoulder (front delts and rotator cuff). This leads to a relative overdevelopment in the bicep and an underdevelopment in the shoulder leading to future instability.

Mark said...

Thanks buddy. I didn't understand what you said but I assume its correct. Though I don't generally lift too heavy, more for endurance/definition than bulk.

Can you give me some other curls to do that will replace preachers? I usually do preachers for wide and inside grips. Other than standing curls, is there something else I could do that would allow me to do get a similar workout.

My finger is KILLING me.

Greg said...

Get some dumbbells and lie back on the incline bench. Turn your wrists so they face away from your body and do some curls that way. This is a little harder to do and a good bicep exercise to add into any routine.

Jeremy said...

Shit. I think I'm wearing the shirt that I bought when I was in Gainesville for that Tennessee game. This is bad. I'll go change now.

Jeremy said...

Wardrobe change paying huge dividends. Free Visa T-shirt and Gators hat I bought in 2000.

Jeremy said...

How did blogger learn my real name? This is troubling...

Greg said...

TEBOW SMASH!!!!

TJ said...

Congrats Hughes...

CFunk28 said...

What an ass kicking. Great game by UF. They MADE Ohio State play like crap. That D-line played out of their minds. I saw UF play a ton this season so I knew what the Bucks were in for. But I didn't think it would end up like that.

But at least they lost to UF. It would have been a lot worse if OSU wouldn't have won in 2002 or if they would have played, say, FSU, Tennessee, Michigan, Miami, or Toledo.

I still love Urban Meyer.

TJ said...

More good news for the Gators:

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Florida's 2008 offense may be getting a huge boost later this week.

Former Union County running back C.J. Spiller, who just completed his freshman year at Clemson, apparently is considering transferring to Florida.

Mark said...

National effing Champions...Hell Yeah!!!!

Good wardrobe change Jerry. I'm also not sure how blogger determined your real name. Creepy.

UF's defense was faster than anything Troy Smith had ever seen. Layoff or not, that was the difference. While I was confident, that was unlike anything I had ever imagined.

The shirt that Jerry reminded me of before the UT game this year is going to be (semi)retired now. It's earned it.

The Spiller thing has been rumored for about a wek now. THAT would be sweet.

Just to recap:

NATIONAL CHAMPS!!!!!

Jerry said...

Your teams are winning an awful lot of championships. Might be time to give something back -- habitat for humanity, get religion, get a new tattoo....something....

TJ said...

Sacrifice a virgin...or maybe just Vitas.

Mark said...

This has been an unprecedented run for me as a sports fan. I probably should look to give something back. Most likely, I'll pick up an extra shift or two at the soup kitchen. Of course, by "soup kitchen", I mean Bar...

CFunk28 said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to say F-You for getting your 3rd championship inside of a year. I hate you now more than ever.

TJ said...

Spiller is staying at Clemson...

Mark said...

That's b/c Tommy Bowden is a jerk who hates families. I hope you're happy that CJ's kid is going to have to grow up without seeing is father for months at a time, jerk.

As for you Calvin, shouldn't you be returning your "National Champions" sweater vest right now?

All this success is starting to make me a little nervous. Kind of a "When does the other shoe drop?" feeling.

CFunk28 said...

I hope that the other shoe smashes your hand.

And you know me Hughes, I've never been one to jump the gun w/ any of my teams. And though I love the Senator, I wouldn't wear a sweater vest.

What that team needed Monday was a good swift in the ass from leather coat wearing Dick Tressel.

Mark said...

My hand was already smashed earlier this week. Thanks for the kind thoughts though. Also, have you considered that the team might have been so sluggish b/c Dick Tressel had them out partying with the locals (read: Mexicans and Bikers, or mexican bikers)during their stay in the desert. I'm sure he's got some well developed connections after OSU's many trips out that way.

TJ said...

Dwight Howard = Monster

30 and 25 last night.

Mark said...

Only. 21. So, so scary

CFunk28 said...

Good point about tricky Dick. He does love leather jackets.

Yeah, and Dwight Howard is a monster.