January 9, 2007

Urban Legend: Meyer masterful for Gators

BCS CHAMPIONSHIP

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vs.
No. 2 Florida

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - They were sprinkled among the fans in the Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. jerseys, dressed as nattily as their favorite coach in scarlet- and-gray sweater vests and matching Jim Tressel glasses.

On the Florida side of the cavernous stadium, there wasn't an Urban Meyer lookalike anywhere to be seen.

The Gators didn't need it.

One was plenty enough.

Florida wasn't even supposed to be on the field with big, bad Ohio State. If it weren't for Meyer begging for his team to get a shot, the Gators likely wouldn't have even had the chance.

Now Florida owns a national championship. And, if coaches can be considered boy wonders at the age of 42, then maybe it's time to consider Meyer just that.

His game plan was masterful. His players were masterfully prepared.

No big surprise there. After all, Meyer has done pretty much the same thing every step of the way of his still very young career.

What was surprising was how easy he and his team made it look.

Turns out not getting any respect was just the thing this Florida team needed to celebrate the 100th year of Gator football.

"That was the greatest motivation," Meyer said. "For 30 days our team got motivated and that's why they played so hard."

Florida barely blinked when Ginn ran back the opening kickoff and made the underdog Gators even more of an underdog just 16 seconds into the title game. Others might have panicked, but the Gators simply marched down a short field for the tying score, and never looked back.

Florida did it behind a spread option offense that seemed to bewilder Ohio State even though the Buckeyes had five full weeks to prepare for it. They did it with a sometimes-maligned quarterback who looked more like a Heisman winner than the Heisman winner, Smith.

Mostly, though, they did it because their coach simply outcoached the coach in the scarlet vest and white shirt.

With no real running game, Meyer used his wide receivers as running backs and his freshman backup quarterback as his inside threat. With a secondary that was suspect, he made sure his defensive line put so much pressure on Smith that he wasn't able to throw effectively.

And somehow, in the time since the Gators last played, he even taught his shaky kicker how to make long field goals.

The result was such a blowout that the only suspense in the fourth quarter was when Meyer would be drenched by the traditional bucket of Gatorade from his celebrating players.

Urban Meyer? How about Urban Legend?

They might begin calling him that down in Gainesville, where Meyer arrived just two years ago after only four years as a head coach in college. He was lured there from Utah, where all he did was go undefeated in his second season and crash the BCS cartel with his team.

His offense has no catchy name like Steve Spurrier's Fun and Gun, but for at least one game it was just as effective, if not more. Florida lined up in so many formations in the first half that the Buckeyes, at times, seemed as though they were seeing the offense for the first time.

Preparation was the key to this win, and overlooked in the weeks leading up to the game was the fact that Meyer's teams haven't lost in five years when they had two weeks or more to prepare for a game.

Actually, the coach who stopped Ohio State from winning its second national championship in five years was a former Buckeye himself. He was an assistant under Earl Bruce, and he still has a big picture of Woody Hayes hanging in his house.

"I don't want to tell you I genuflect in front of it, but darn close," Meyer said this week. "That's the way I was raised."

He was also raised to be a winner by a perfectionist father who once made him run home after a losing effort on the baseball field.

The story has been told, but it says a lot about Meyer, whose only two passions are his family and football. When he got his first coaching job at Bowling Green, his daughter asked him why they had to move, and he explained that he was like a climber scaling a mountain and trying to get to the top.

When the family moved to Utah, she asked if this was the top of the mountain, and Meyer said it was not, but close. Two years ago when Meyer took the job at Florida, his daughter asked again.

"Yes, this is the top of the mountain," he told her.

Not quite, as it turns out.

He reached the summit Monday night - and planted his flag at the top.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

For more coverage of the BCS Championship Game, check out GatorBait.net and BuckeyeGrove.com.



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