Florida saves its best game for last one


Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

How does it feel to wake up in Titletown today?

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Percy Harvin with a catch during the second quarter of the Tostitos BCS National Championship at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun

Just another national championship. Just another dominating performance in the biggest game of the year.

Not that it's getting boring.

Ask Chris Leak, whose vindication came in the form of that crystal trophy he held as if it was his first-born, a symbol of four years of everything.

“It's what I expected when I came here, to win a national championship,” Leak said. “I can't put into words what it means.”

Ask Cornelius Ingram, who almost quit the team a year ago and instead became a major contributor in the national championship game with four catches for 58 yards.

“It's not hard to believe, it's hard to believe I almost left,” Ingram said, with a big smile. “It's the greatest feeling ever. I said winning the SEC was the greatest, this tops it.”

Ask all of these guys who heard it all year, who heard it for a month.

Think they belong now, Michigan?

“There's a team that doesn't belong in this game,” Deshawn Wynn said. “And it's not the Gators.”

One thing you can say for the Gators, they know how to win a national championship.

They took a team that was supposed to be unbeatable and beat it down like it was UCF. They pushed so hard they caused the usually conservative Jim Tressel to go for it on fourth down from his own 29.

“Obviously, it was the wrong call,” Tressel said.

This was the best we've seen this Florida team play this year. Who is the big-game coach now?

In their minds they were disrespected by the national media. They saw in one newspaper where a 42-14 score was predicted in favor of the other team.

Then they went out and came a point short of reversing it.

“Motivation was easy for the last 30 days,” UF coach Urban Meyer said.

And so they were able to pass the crystal around, just as their basketball brethren did nine months ago. And they did so with a performance that will at least allow the 2006 Gators to enter the argument for best team in Gator history. Certainly, this was a game that is in the argument for best all-around performance ever.

And Leak gets into that best quarterback argument.

“He is officially one of the top two quarterbacks to play at the University of Florida,” Meyer said.

It was a game that showed what we have seen all season — this is a team built around seniors who have been kick-started by freshmen.

Tim Tebow scored one touchdown and picked up 39 yards. He threw for a touchdown. But it was Leak who was the Most Valuable Offensive Player, managing the game beautifully and passing for 213 yards.

It was Percy Harvin who scored once and had 82 all purpose yards. But it was Dallas Baker who scored the first touchdown.

You could point to the loss of Ted Ginn Jr. as a reason why Ohio State looked like the University of Phoenix, the online university that bought the naming rights to this stadium. Or you could point to the long layoff.

But when you saw what Florida did offensively, you hit your knees to give thanks to the layoff the Gators had to deal with.

We have seen in the past what Meyer does with extra days, an extra week. This break between games was longer than some marriages, and Meyer used it to refine his offense and add a few wrinkles for the first half.

He lined Ingram up as a true, hand-on-the-ground tight end. He had Tebow run a dip-and-sprint and find wide receiver Andre Caldwell open for a score.

But mostly, these were the plays we'd seen before. This just wasn't the offense we'd seen before.

But it was a very familiar defense.

It made a Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State look like Kirk Herbstreit. Today. Troy Smith was firing balls into the ground and into the stands when he wasn't getting planted into the new turf at the stadium by Florida defenders.

And if we thought that was a buried myth about Southeastern Conference speed being greater than Big 10 speed, well, when your defensive ends are faster than the other team's mobile quarterback, it's more of a fact now than a supposition.

“It ain't disrespect (for Ohio State), it's the truth,” Caldwell said.

The way it started was perfect, to be honest. Meyer talked in his final pre-game news conference about how his team had been socked in the mouth so many times and that he admired the way they had come back each time.

On this glorious Monday night, the punch in the mouth came on the first play when Ginn ran the opening kickoff back for a score.

But these Gators spit out the blood, bowed up and played an incredibly impressive game.

It was amazing. And now, Meyer can truly call this a great team.

And we can call him a great coach.

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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