Gator Bowl 2012: Key Matchups for Ohio State vs. Florida
Oh, the irony!
Nearly a week after Urban Meyer was named Ohio State's new football coach, it was announced that the Buckeyes would face his former team, the Florida Gators, in the 2012 Gator Bowl on January 2 in Jacksonville.
Meyer won two national titles in six years with the Gators. He left the team after dealing with health problems, in addition to a desire to spend more time with his family. He then briefly became a college football analyst for ESPN before accepting the job with OSU.
However, interim coach Luke Fickell, who replaced Jim Tressel (NCAA rules violations), will lead the team in the bowl game.
This is the first time these two schools will face each other since the 2007 BCS National Championship, when Florida blew out Ohio State by a score of 41-14.
Florida (6-6, 3-5 SEC) and Ohio State (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) will battle for a winning record; a contest between once-proud programs that have slipped significantly this season.
Here are the key matchups to look for throughout the game.
Chris Rainey vs. Ohio State's Front Seven
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Chris Rainey is an extremely athletic, versatile and shifty running back. Heck, he's flat out talented.
He'll also be playing in what will be his final game wearing a Florida Gator jersey.
The 5'9", 175-pound senior tailback is known for his speed and deceitful footwork on the outside edge and in open field. He's also utilized in the passing game and has a nice set of hands.
This could be the perfect recipe to pick apart the Ohio State defense, who has struggled against speedy RBs.
For example, Miami's (FL) Lamar Miller rushed 26 times for 184 yards (7.1 yards per carry) back in Week 3. Penn State torched Buckeyes defenders for 239 yards on the ground. And most recently, Michigan's Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged 6.0 yards every time he took a handoff, putting up 120 yards to accompany Denard Robinson's 170.
Ohio State's linebackers, who tend to play poorly versus players with a good amount of athleticism, should have a hard time containing Rainey. He could end up having a big day in both rushing and passing games as he's averaged 71.8 and 31.8 yards throughout the season, respectively.
John Brantley vs. Ohio State's Pass Rush
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Tim Tebow may not have been the prototypical quarterback, but ask any Gators fan who'd they rather have, and I guarantee no one sticks with John Brantley.
The senior signal caller has had his fair share of ups and downs during his tenure with Florida, but most of the time he's been known as an inconsistent player.
In 10 games this season, Brantley has completed 132-224 passes (58.9 percent) for 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, good for a 140.0 passer rating. Four of those TDs came from a 54-32 win over D-1AA Furman.
It's been apparent that Brantley struggles when facing pressure in the pocket. He's known for making bad decisions when having little time instead of making timely adjustments.
Ohio State's pass rush, led by senior defensive tackle John Simon, will be a huge factor when it comes to Brantley's success. If it can force quick decisions and put pressure on the Gators QB, the Buckeyes could take advantage with some turnovers.
Ohio State's Rush Offense vs. Florida's Defense
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
It's been made clear that opponents aren't afraid to run the ball against Florida.
In five of the six losses (not including the overall ugly game versus Florida State), the other team is averaging nearly 203 yards per game off 47 carries (4.3 YPC), finding the end zone a total of 11 times.
Ohio State loves to utilize the ground attack.
Whether it be Dan Herron, Braxton Miller, Jordan Hall or Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes get a ton of yardage running the football. They average 195.4 yards per game as a team—No. 27 in the nation—and don't shy away from pounding it throughout all four quarters.
If OSU can get four or five yards per attempt from its tailbacks (or Miller), it can sustain long offensive drives and control the pace of the game, much like other opponents have against Florida.
Braxton Miller vs. Himself
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Florida defense has not seen a dual-threat quarterback like Braxton Miller yet this season. It's hard to think it'll be able to contain him, especially since it hasn't fared well against good rush offenses.
Besides, no one else has been able to stop his mobile ability. It's his arm that's got him in trouble.
Miller, a true freshman, has been the epitome of an offensive spark. He's provided numerous awe-inspiring plays and has been known to come up in clutch situations. However, he's completed just 50 percent of his passes this season and has missed plenty of open targets.
Most notable are the three failed attempts that would have been touchdowns when he overthrew open receivers last weekend in Ann Arbor.
If Miller can make a few adjustments and continue to improve on his passing game, there's no doubt that he'd be able to march down the field against the Gators.
Luke Fickell vs. Will Muschamp
A coach in his final debut as the leader of his football team versus one with everything to prove.
Luke Fickell will assume full responsibility of the Ohio State football program until the final snap of the game. Then Urban Meyer begins, and he will most likely become an assistant on the defensive side.
Fickell was an assistant under Jim Tressel for nine years, coaching the linebackers while owning the title of co-defensive coordinator.
Will Muschamp, in his first year as a head coach, took over the program after Meyer parted. Job security probably isn't a factor yet, but it wouldn't hurt to get a bowl win after an underachieving season.
Muschamp was the former defensive coordinator for Valdosta State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins (assistant), Auburn and Texas. His squads were widely known as powerhouse defenses, rarely allowing opponents to score.
It was also announced in 2008 that Muschamp was to succeed Mack Brown as the next head coach for Texas, but instead he accepted the job at Florida.