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January 4, 2007
Buckeyes defense ready for big-play Gators
No. 1 Ohio State
No. 2 Florida
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The subject of big plays made Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock a little testy.
When Buckeyes football players were questioned on Thursday about giving up big plays against Michigan, Heacock interrupted with a question of his own.
"We won that game, right?" he said.
The Buckeyes did prevail 42-39, but also allowed 267 passing yards and six plays that covered at least 24 yards to the Wolverines. A similar showing could prove problematic against Florida in Monday's national championship game.
The Gators, who boast a better and more diverse offense than Michigan, have recorded 79 plays of at least 20 yards this season - 19 of those resulted in touchdowns. They did that despite playing five teams that ranked among the nation's top 25 in total defense.
Although that sub-par defensive performance against Michigan did raise some red flags, the Buckeyes aren't about to raise any white ones.
"You want to be remembered for your last game," senior safety Brandon Mitchell said. "And the game we played against Michigan, obviously, we weren't very happy with our performance as far as giving up big plays and probably more passing yards than we really wanted to.
"This game we just kind of want to get back to fundamentals and do the little things that got us here and made us have a successful season. I think that's what we have been placing the big emphasis on throughout practice."
In truth, the lapse against Michigan was definitely the exception to the Buckeyes' rule. The 39 points Michigan scored was more than Ohio State allowed in the previous five games combined.
Still, they're not just assuming those issues won't resurface.
"We are concerned ourselves from the Michigan game," Heacock said. "We felt like we had a couple of breakdowns and gave up some big plays, a few more big plays we had than in the course of the year.
"I think those are things we are trying to correct ourselves and focus in on. We talk about Florida and obviously a lot of things concern you. They do a lot of different things."
What Florida is best at is getting the football to its talented receivers. UF pass catchers have combined to haul in 16 touchdown passes that have covered at least 20 yards.
"We go against great receivers each and every day in practice," cornerback Antonio Smith said. "We are a team and our team in practices goes No.1 offense against No.1 defense every day, and I think that gives us an edge. We are facing one of the best offenses in the country and some of the best receivers in the country (in practice). Going against them each and every day definitely helps us out and prepares us for Florida and anything we may face."
"I think they are unique because they play four or five guys at receiver," Mitchell said. "Any one of those guys when given the ball in open space, whether it is a 10-yard pass or a 38-yard bomb, can turn those plays into big plays. I think that's unique because usually you have to stop maybe one big-play guy or two-big play guys.
"With this team they spread the ball out so evenly that you have to be on your P's and Q's for every play. You have to stay focused for every possession, because you know at any time if there is a lack of focus they can break one."
But cornerback Malcolm Jenkins assured the Buckeyes would be more focused than they were against Michigan.
""We didn't perform like we wanted to, and I think we lost some respect that we had been trying to gain all year," Jenkins said. "So for us, it's just coming out and being as good as your last game. This is our last game, so all they are going to remember from here on out is how we play this weekend."