Buckeyes wary of Gator defense

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ohio State flanker Anthony Gonzalez has studied up on Florida's defense. One particular trait about the Gators' defense stands out.

"They are very fast and very athletic," Gonzalez said. "I think those are the two strengths they have as a defense, is just their speed and athleticism."

That, Gonzalez said, will be a major challenge for the top-ranked Buckeyes when they face No. 2 Florida Monday night in the BCS title game.

The Gators have given up a stingy 13.5 points per game this season. Ohio State, meanwhile, has scored an overwhelming 36.3 points per game.

There are some who feel Florida's defense will be the fastest and strongest the Buckeyes have faced this season. But quarterback Troy Smith downplayed the perception that Ohio State hasn't faced many formidable defenses this season.

"We face guys all the time that are very, very fast, extremely talented and just as strong as the guys the Gators are going to bring," Smith said.

He's right. The Buckeyes have six teams with defenses ranked in the top 40 nationally this season. They are Michigan (No. 7), Penn State (No. 14), Texas (No. 22), Cincinnati (No. 28), Illinois (No. 32) and Bowling Green (No. 39).

The Buckeyes averaged 30.5 points in those games, including a 42-point outburst against Michigan in their final regular season game.

Florida's defense, meanwhile, is up there with the best of them, ranked 10th nationally.

The Gators have done it with a disruptive front line complimented by man coverage in the secondary. The Gators' man coverage is something Ohio State's receivers have noticed.

"I fell like they say to themselves, 'Okay, we feel like we have better athletes than you and we are just going to prove it,' " Gonzalez said. "I feel like that is one of their defensive philosophies. They have had some tremendous success doing that against some talented receiving corps."

Gonzalez noted how well Florida slowed down Tennessee's Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain as well as LSU's Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet.

"That's one of our challenges as our group approaches the game is to see if we can do better than those teams that have come before us," Gonzalez said.

Gators safety Reggie Nelson may have a say in that. Nelson has been a force all season, laying hard hits while interception six passes.

"He's a great player ... fast, likes to hit," Buckeyes receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. said. "We will know where he is because he is a high safety. But he likes to come down, hit you. He is going to play as hard as he can and I know he is a big player on their defense. We are going to watch out for him."

Buckeyes offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said experience is another factor that makes the Gators defense effective.

Florida has just one underclassman starting on defense — defensive end Derrick Harvey. But even Harvey, a redshirt sophomore, is a third-year player.

"The first thing that jumps out at you is their experience," Bollman said. "They don't have any younger guys who are regular players for them."

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