- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- In the calm and safety of the morning after the Tostitos BCS Championship Game, Florida coach Urban Meyer admitted to "panic" after Ohio State junior Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown on Monday night.
"We made a gamble, and that's my fault," Meyer said of the decision to kick to Ginn. While he panicked, his team responded.
"The offense systemically goes down and converted three or four first downs and everybody settled down and said, 'Let's go play.' "
Everyone in orange and blue, anyway. In an attempt to explain the Gators' margin of victory in their 41-14 rout of Ohio State, Meyer cited the speed of his defensive line, describing their dominance of the line of scrimmage "a mismatch." Five sacks of Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith back up Meyer there.
Meyer also cited the maturation of quarterback Chris Leak, whose slowly developing trust in Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen came to full bloom at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"Chris Leak fundamentally is not even close to what he was last year," Meyer said. "He sets his feet. The touchdown pass yesterday on the slant and go, he hung in there as the pressure is caving in. We have all seen Chris curl up and fall down. He stuck it in there and made a play."
That 14-yard completion to Dallas Baker evened the score at seven and gave the Gators the momentum.
When discussing the game, Meyer cited emotion as a factor in the upset, both the motivation that Florida took from being an underdog and what he perceived as the difficulty Ohio State had in dealing with being the favorite.
That motivation did not fade when Florida led 34-14 at the half. Meyer needed only to step into the locker room to quell any concerns about his team resting on its lead.
"Their helmets are on and they were beating the lockers up," Meyer said. "It was a feeding frenzy, what was going on in that locker room."
Asked to assess whether Ohio State played poorly on its own or because Florida forced the Buckeyes to do so, Meyer pointed the finger at the circumstances that Ohio State faced.
"The human element takes over," Meyer said. "You get patted on the back so many times, you actually believe you are pretty good. To answer your question, I'm not sure we forced that. I think it was the layoff. It was the fact we got to play two more games past their games."
Florida peaked on Monday night, a peak that the Gators would not have reached without winning at Florida State, 21-14, on Nov. 25 and defeating Arkansas, 38-28, in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2.
The Big Ten chose to have Ohio State and Michigan end their season on the third Saturday in November. The conference might have to rethink that philosophy if it wants to contend more seriously for national championships.
The Gators approach next season having lost at least 13 starters, with several juniors considering whether to leave early for the NFL. Meyer has a strong class of sophomores-to-be, including quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin. Meyer said that Florida will sign 27 freshmen, nine of whom enrolled in Gainesville on Monday and will be available for spring practice.
"I'm sure they think they don't have to go to class today because we won a national championship. I assure you that's why I am going home today," Meyer joked.
If there's any fire to the smoke that arose Tuesday, Florida's best new player won't be available until 2008. Asked whether Clemson freshman tailback C.J. Spiller, a Florida native who rushed for 938 yards in 2006, had enrolled in Gainesville as well on Monday, Meyer played coy about the three-time Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Week.
"The first time I really heard about that was last night," he said. "I'm flying back today. I'm sure I will hear more today on that issue."
Upon Meyer's return to campus, he planned to appear with some of his players at halftime of the Gators' basketball game against Arkansas. A bigger celebration is planned for Saturday -- and, of course, years to come.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2dSam Khan Jr.