After electrifying start, Buckeyes' collapse was swift

Updated: January 9, 2007, 9:38 AM ET
Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After rolling to a 12-0 record, mighty Ohio State did what no one else could do this year.

The Buckeyes stopped themselves. The result was an unimaginable 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS championship game on Monday night.

Though the Gators played superbly at times, a mix of mental and physical errors helped send Ohio State to its worst defeat since Penn State drubbed the Buckeyes 63-14 on Oct. 29, 1994.

"For whatever reason, we just didn't come out to play as well as we could," Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez said. "That's very disappointing, considering the stakes. To go out like that, you couldn't have a worse taste in your mouth, really."

The Buckeyes literally hurt themselves all night -- and their problems began in the aftermath of the game's very first play.

After speedy Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, he hurt his left foot when teammates mobbed him in the end zone.

Neither Ginn nor the Buckeyes recovered.

What should have been a simple celebration became the first in a series of setbacks, many self-inflicted.

"We did a lot of things to set ourselves back," Ohio State guard T.J. Downing said. "That's life. Sometimes things don't go your way."

The Buckeyes bore little resemblance to the team that outscored opponents by an average of 26 points. Ginn's touchdown created a false sense of superiority that quickly disappeared when the Buckeyes began bumbling.

"This is a new low, especially after a 12-0 season," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. "You walk into this, and you don't have any answers."

On this night, almost nothing went Ohio State's way. Ginn's injury was just the start.

After taking the quick 7-0 lead, Ohio State underwent a meltdown on college football's biggest stage. And it was completely out of character for a team that had gone 4-0 in BCS bowls, including an upset of heavily favored Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to win the 2002 national title.

The Buckeyes, normally a disciplined group, committed first-quarter personal fouls on a kickoff and a punt, giving the Gators possession in Ohio State territory. Florida converted those mistakes into 14 quick points.

Then Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, threw an interception, leading to another Florida touchdown.

Even Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, known for playing it close to his sweater vest, stumbled. He went for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 29 late in the first half. Backup tailback Chris Wells was stopped short of the marker, and four plays later Florida's Chris Hetland hit a 40-yard field goal to make it 27-14.

The Buckeyes were never in the game again, but they denied their coach's decision was a turning point.

"It's hard to pick a turning point when you lose by whatever we lost by," Gonzalez said. "Whatever it was, it was a lot. It's hard to pick one thing."

Before the half was over, Smith fumbled deep in his own territory to set up yet another Gators touchdown. A team that had trailed only once at halftime this season found itself in a 34-14 hole heading into the locker room.

By the time they reconvene for spring drills, the Buckeyes may figure out what went wrong. The pain will likely last a lot longer than that.

"We made a lot of mistakes," Barton said. "But give Florida credit. They played a great game."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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