SEC: FedEx BCS National Championship Game

Podcast: Reaction to championship game

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
11:30
AM ET
Urban Meyer, Percy Harvin, Bob Stoops and Tim Tebow discuss Florida's 24-14 victory over Oklahoma.

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.

Florida 24, Oklahoma 14
Wojciechowski: Who should be No. 1?
Forde: Tebow takes over
Maisel: Gators own fourth
Schlabach: OU's missed opportunities
Low: SEC blog
Griffin: Big 12 blog

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."

Video: Tebow on victory over Sooners

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

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow talks about the Gators' win over Oklahoma.

Florida's defense answers the challenge

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
3:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- One of Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong's stated goals every game is to hold the opponent under 16 points.

With the way Oklahoma had been lighting up scoreboards, nobody would have blamed him if he had modified that goal.

 
  AP Photo/J. Pat Carter
  Major Wright and the Florida defense held Oklahoma to a season-low 14 points.

Maybe 16 points per half?

"They moved the ball on us, but we only let them in our end zone twice," said Florida safety Ahmad Black, who had a key interception with the Sooners driving in the fourth quarter. "Against these guys, with what they've done to people this year, we'll take that every time."

While Black's leaping interception at the Florida 24-yard line with 9:59 left might have been one of the final blows for the Sooners on Thursday, the Gators made sure they lived to see the second half by making one clutch defensive stop after another in the first half.

Oklahoma could have easily been up by two touchdowns at halftime, but the Gators would have none of it.

A quick recap:

Defensive tackle Torrey Davis slammed Oklahoma running back Chris Brown to the turf for a 2-yard loss when the Sooners decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter.

Linebacker Brandon Hicks sacked Sam Bradford for a 14-yard loss in the first quarter after the Sooners had driven to the Gators' 38 and had a first-and-10.

And to end the first half, cornerback Joe Haden broke up a Bradford pass at the goal line that was tipped three times, finally landing in Major Wright's hands.

"We're always on each other; who's going to make a play?" Wright said. "If you don't make plays on this defense, then you're not going to be playing."

The Florida defense also came up clutch in the third quarter when linebacker Ryan Stamper flew in to smother Brown for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 play at the Gators' 27. The Sooners had to try a field goal that was blocked on the next play by linebacker Dustin Doe.

"We challenged our guys, and they answered that challenge," Strong said. "The thing I said about this defense was that they didn't know how good they were. All year long, we played consistently."

Consistent? How about dominant?

The Gators closed the season with a 10-game winning streak. In those 10 games, they never allowed more than 21 points and held opponents to 14 points or less six times.

"We ain't got any punks on this team," said Davis, who was suspended for part of the season and only had five tackles entering the game. "We've got a bunch of men. When times are the toughest, that's when we play our best."

Video: Urban Meyer on Gators' win

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
2:46
AM ET

Urban Meyer sits down with the College GameDay crew to talk about the Gators' victory.

Harvin's return proves scary for Sooners

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
2:27
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- If you're of the defensive persuasion, it's one of the scariest sights in all of football.

Percy Harvin in the open field with a little bit of daylight ... even when he's got a bum ankle.

"I knew what was coming," Florida safety Major Wright beamed. "He put a move on me in practice this week, and I said, 'Yep, he's back.'"

 
  Paul Abell/US Presswire
  Florida's Percy Harvin did a little of everything in the Gators' win Thursday night.

The Oklahoma defenders are probably still clutching at air, looking up with that bewildering scowl and seeing No. 1 blazing down the field.

When you start doling out "best this" and "best that" in the realm of college football, Harvin's name is right there at the top in a couple of different categories.

On Thursday night, he was the best player on the field -- period. And that's saying something when Tim Tebow's your quarterback.

"Percy just sort of breaks a defense's spirit," Florida senior receiver Louis Murphy said. "You might play him OK for a couple of plays, and then he pops a big one. And after he pops one, he's going to pop another and another."

For a guy with a badly sprained right ankle and reports swirling before the game that he might have re-injured his ankle earlier in the week, Harvin was at his warp-speed best in Florida's 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

When the Gators needed a big play, he gave it to them.

The junior running back/receiver led Florida with 122 yards rushing on nine carries, averaging 13.6 yards per carry. He also had five catches for 49 yards.

He had a 46-yard run in the second quarter after the Gators had to start at their own 3. He had a 52-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up the Gators' go-ahead field goal.

But what pleased Harvin the most was the toughness the Gators showed.

"Everybody wondered about how tough we were," said Harvin, whose 2-yard touchdown run on a direct snap in the third quarter gave Florida a 14-7 lead. "I think we answered that question. We were the tougher team, and that's why we're national champions.

"Every time you win one of these, it feels a little better."

(Read full post)

Video: Title game analysis

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
2:04
AM ET

ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman and Mark Schlabach recap Florida's win over Oklahoma.

Final: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
11:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- That chomping sound you heard late Thursday night in Dolphin Stadium was Florida sinking its teeth into another BCS national championship.

Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin played like the stars they are, but they had plenty of help in leading the Gators to a 24-14 victory over Oklahoma for their second national title in the last three years.

Tebow shook off two first-half interceptions and passed for 231 yards and two touchdowns, capped by his trademark jump pass to David Nelson for a 4-yard touchdown to pretty much seal the Sooners' fate with 3:07 to play. He also rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries, the most he's carried the ball all season.

This one meant even more to Tebow than the 2006 national title. He was just a part-time player on that team, more of a specialty player.

But this was his team.

Harvin, playing on a sprained ankle, was equally spectacular. He rushed for 121 yards and also added 49 yards receiving.

The Gators had plenty of stars on this team, and they played that way on Thursday.

But similar to the SEC championship game win over Alabama, Florida had other guys stepping up, too.

Defensive tackle Torrey Davis made a huge play to stop Oklahoma on fourth-and-goal at the Gators' 1 in the second quarter. Dustin Doe blocked a field goal attempt, and Ahmad Black came up with a clutch interception with the Sooners driving in the fourth quarter.

The Gators' defense held the high-scoring Sooners to a season-low 14 points. This was the same Oklahoma offense that had scored more than 60 points in five straight games entering Thursday's game.

But Florida made one key defensive play after another to keep Oklahoma and Sam Bradford at bay. Ultimately, that was the story of the game for the Gators. They refused to allow Oklahoma to capitalize on several scoring chances in the first quarter.

It's the fourth BCS national championship for the SEC in the last six years.

It's also the first time since 1978-80 that one conference has won three straight national championships. Alabama shared the title with Southern California in 1978, was the consensus champion in 1979 and Georgia was consensus champion in 1980.

3Q update: Florida 14, Oklahoma 7

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
11:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- Florida finally found the offensive spark it was looking for in the third quarter Thursday night.

Tim Tebow.

The Gators spread it out and let Tebow do his thing, and he responded by doing the bulk of the work in a gorgeous touchdown drive to put Florida ahead 14-7 heading into the final quarter of the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

Tebow kept the ball six times in the drive, twice converting on third down with hard-charging runs up the middle. On the first one, he lowered his head and plowed into Oklahoma safety Nic Harris after picking up 14 yards.

And while the Florida defense made all the timely plays in the first half, special teams got into the act in the third quarter.

The Gators' Dustin Doe blocked Jimmy Stevens' 49-yard field goal attempt in the final minutes. It was the ninth blocked kick by Florida this season, a school record.

The reason the Sooners were kicking there, though, was because the Gators rose up again on defense the play before. Linebacker Ryan Stamper knifed through and stopped Oklahoma tailback Chris Brown for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 play from the Gators' 27-yard line.

You can't help but wonder how many more times the Florida defense is going to be able to keep making these game-changing plays.

The Sooners have had a lot of opportunities, but the Gators keep turning them away.

Halftime: Oklahoma 7, Florida 7

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
10:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- Remember all those things Florida coach Urban Meyer said his team couldn't do and still win this game?

Well, the Gators are doing them.

But thanks to a defense that's shown some serious grit backed up against its own goal line, Florida finds itself tied 7-7 with Oklahoma at halftime of the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow had thrown only two interceptions all season. He's thrown two in the first half Thursday night.

The Gators have also lost the battle of field position in the first half, as the Sooners have played a large portion of the game on Florida's side of the field.

But Charlie Strong's defense is making plays when it has to.

Just before halftime, Florida safety Major Wright picked off Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with a bobbling interception that was tipped three different times before Wright finally collared it at the 3. The Sooners had a first-and-goal at the 6, so the Gators' defense saved themselves at least three points right there.

Earlier in the quarter, Florida sophomore defensive tackle Torrey Davis made an even bigger play. The Sooners went for it on fourth-and-goal from the Gators' 1. They tried to quick-snap it, but Davis shot through and leveled tailback Chris Brown for a 2-yard loss.

Talk about good timing.

Davis had only made five tackles all season coming into the game, and two of those were against The Citadel in a 70-19 rout.

The best news for the Gators offensively is that Percy Harvin looks great. He popped a 46-yard run off his own goal line and nearly broke it all the way.

On the down side, redshirt freshman running back Chris Rainey suffered a nasty looking knee injury in the second quarter when his right knee was caught under him near the sideline after being dragged down by an Oklahoma defender.

The Gators have to find a way to be more consistent offensively in the second half -- and find a running game.

1Q update: Oklahoma 0, Florida 0

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
9:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- Just what we expected, right?

After all the talk about the explosive offenses in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game, the two defenses are setting the tone after a scoreless first quarter.

The best part for Florida, though, is that its defense twice held when Oklahoma crossed over into the Gators' territory.

Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes had a jarring blow on Oklahoma's Chris Brown to open the game, and then a few plays later, Florida safety Major Wright came over on a deep ball down the left sideline and tattooed Oklahoma receiver Manuel Johnson.

It's a wonder Johnson was able to get up.

More importantly, the Gators had sent the kind of black-and-blue message they hoped to send defensively.

They were also able to overcome Tim Tebow's first interception since Oct. 25. The Sooners took over near midfield, but couldn't capitalize against the Gators' defense.

Percy Harvin didn't start the game, but he was in on the second offensive play for the Gators. It didn't take him long to make his presence felt.

He caught a pass on a short crossing route on a third-and-8 play and converted it into a 19-yard gain. He looked plenty fast on the play, too, as the Sooners had to use the sideline to force him out.

Field position critical for Gators

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
8:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- If you're looking for an early indicator Thursday night, watch field position.

Florida has been outstanding all season at winning the field-position battle. Only six of the Gators' opponents this season have started a drive in Florida territory.

Also, Florida is allowing just 4.8 yards per punt return, which is ninth nationally.

"Everybody talks about great offense," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "Great offense is the result of great field position usually. When you talk about field position, it comes down to turnovers and field position on kicking. I think those are going to be the two difference makers in this game."

The Gators are first nationally in turnover margin at plus-22. Their 11 turnovers this season are tied for the third fewest in the country.

Belichick in the house

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
7:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who's close with Florida coach Urban Meyer, is at the game.

Belichick was on the field watching the Gators warm up before the game along with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Among the former Florida players in the house are Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel and defensive lineman Trace Armstrong, who went on to be an NFL Pro Bowler.

Wuerffel was honored before the game along with several past Heisman Trophy winners, including Marcus Allen, Tony Dorsett and Doug Flutie.

A quick update on Harvin's ankle

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
7:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- I just got back from the field watching Percy Harvin warm up.

 
  Marc Serota/Getty Images
  After warming up, Percy Harvin,  left, didn't appear to show signs of his ankle injury.

In short, he looked like a guy coming off a high ankle sprain -- nothing like his old self, but not horrible, either. There was a Florida radio report Thursday that Harvin tweaked his right ankle in practice this week.

I asked a couple of different Florida officials about that report, and they said only that nothing had changed about his status. Florida coach Urban Meyer said on Wednesday that Harvin would play in the game.

The junior running back/receiver came out for warm-ups a lot later than the rest of the Florida skill players. When he did hit the field, the Florida fans in that end zone let out a loud cheer of relief. Harvin caught one short pass, turned and ran up the field a little gingerly. He then ran on his own over on the sideline, high-stepping to try to get loose.

When the entire Florida team returned a few minutes later for warm-ups, Harvin was with them and looked better. He was smooth in running his routes and didn't show any signs that the ankle was bothering him while catching passes from Tim Tebow.

Harvin hasn't had any contact since he injured his ankle against Florida State on Nov. 29. He said earlier this week he expected to be about 90 percent.

In one other note, senior tight end Cornelius Ingram is dressed and going through all the pregame warm-ups with the Gators. He said the doctors wouldn't clear him to play for this game after tearing his ACL during the preseason. But he did say he hopes to get into the game at the end when the Gators are kneeling the ball down in their Victory formation.

One more thing about Tebow

January, 8, 2009
1/08/09
6:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

MIAMI -- If Florida wins Thursday night, Tim Tebow would become only the fifth player since 1950 to have won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships, according to ESPN Research.

He would join Southern California's Reggie Bush, Southern California's Matt Leinart, Miami's Geno Torretta and Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers.

Tebow was a short-yardage and goal-line specialist for the Gators as a freshman during their 2006 national championship season.

Should the Gators win Thursday night and Tebow decides to come back for his senior season, he would have a shot at becoming only the third player in history to win three national titles and a Heisman Trophy.

The only players to have done that both played at Notre Dame. John Lujack won national titles in 1943, 1946 and 1947 and the Heisman in 1947. Leon Hart won national titles in 1946, 1947 and 1949 and won the Heisman in 1949.

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