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January 8, 2007
Forget skill, this game will be won in trenches
No. 1 Ohio State
No. 2 Florida
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – There will be a Heisman Trophy recipient on the University of Phoenix Stadium field tonight - as well as a record-setting quarterback, a running back with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, the nation's most heralded true freshman and perhaps four of the most scintillating receivers in college football.
The BCS national championship game offers a slew of electrifying athletes with big-play ability. No. 1 Ohio State (12-0) boasts Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith, running back Antonio Pittman - who has exceeded 1,000-yards rushing in each of the last two seasons - and explosive receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. The two OSU wideouts have combined for 108 catches for 1,504 yards and 17 touchdowns.
No. 2 Florida (12-1) counters with quarterback Chris Leak, who has passed for a school record 11,000 yards. The elusive Percy Harvin, who last year was rated the nation's top high school prospect by Rivals.com, has averaged 12.7 yards the 61 times he's touched the ball this season. Explosive receivers Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell have 111 catches for 1,468 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Gators.
However, with all the offensive firepower on display, the national championship still figures to be determined the old-fashioned way – in the proverbial trenches where offensive linemen and defensive linemen clash in relative obscurity.
"I think it's going to determine the outcome of the game," Florida center Steve Rissler said. "Whether or not we can pick up blitzes and block their defensive front. If we give Chris the time to pass the ball he will make some good plays and I know our receivers will catch it."
But Florida coach Urban Meyer said the Gators, who averaged 160.3 rushing yards this season, must have success running against Buckeyes. Ohio State is solid up front with All-American defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock and All-Big Ten defensive end Vernon Gholston.
"For Florida to win the game, we have to run the ball … have to," Meyer said. "That means our offensive line will have to handle arguably the best defensive front they played all year. For Ohio State to win the game, I'm sure their coach would say the same thing."
The Buckeyes offensive line includes three All-Big performers: 6-foot-6, 310-pound tackle Kirk Barton, 6-foot-4, 305-pound guard T.J. Downing and 6-foot-5, 295-pound center Doug Datish. The OSU linemen feel they must control the line of scrimmage against an athletic Florida defensive front led by All-SEC defensive tackle Ray McDonald. The Gators allow just 74.5 yards rushing per game to rank fifth in the nation.
"I think any time we go into a football game we preach several things, and one of those things is to win the rushing battle," Datish said. "Any time we can do that, generally we will be successful. That's a huge emphasis for us going into any game, especially this one."