Florida's transformed secondary makes difference

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
4:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- They were laughing at Florida's secondary this time a year ago.

Literally.

Michigan's Chad Henne had just torched Florida for 373 passing yards and three touchdowns in the Wolverines' 41-35 Capital One Bowl victory. And even though the Gators' secondary was starting two freshmen, nobody was cutting them much slack

"All we heard about was how sorry we were," sophomore safety Major Wright recounted.

 
  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  Ahmad Black's fourth-quarter interception halted an Oklahoma scoring threat.

Well, they were laughing again Thursday night in Dolphin Stadium, but for much different reasons.

The Gators had just polished off Oklahoma and its high-powered offense to win their second BCS national championship in three years, and the secondary was a big reason why.

"We grew up a lot, matured and made up our minds that what happened last year to us wasn't going to happen again," Wright said. "Our whole offseason was about that Michigan game. I don't think a day went by that somebody didn't bring up that game."

It was Wright who set the tone for the Gators' secondary on Thursday.

On the third play of the game, Wright came over on a floater down the left sideline and absolutely leveled Oklahoma receiver Manuel Johnson. The Florida sideline went crazy, and Johnson wobbled to his feet.

The tone had been set.

"We talked about this, that we had to be more physical than them, and that hit proved that we were going to play physical the whole game," Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said.

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The Gators intercepted Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy quarterback, Sam Bradford, twice in the game. One of those came right before half with the Sooners at the Florida 6. Cornerback Joe Haden broke-up the pass. It was tipped three times, and Wright was there to pick it off.

The second interception came in the fourth quarter when sophomore safety Ahmad Black made a textbook play and slid underneath the receiver to pick the ball off at the Florida 24.

It's a route he says he knew the Sooners were going to run in that situation.

"We were ready for what they were going to do. That's experience," Black said. "This isn't the same secondary you saw last year."

Nope, and Black isn't the same player. He finished the season with seven interceptions and played as consistently as anybody back there.

Not bad for a guy who Florida coach Urban Meyer didn't think was fast enough, big enough or good enough at one point.

"I'm glad I proved to my coaches and to everybody that I could play at this level," Black said. "I don't think there are any more questions."

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