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January 8, 2007

Buckeye success begins and ends at kickoff


No. 1 Ohio State
No. 2 Florida

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Ohio State:

GLENDALE, Ariz. -The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes hurt themselves all night - literally.

After Ted Ginn Jr. returned the BCS championship game 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, in a humiliating 41-14 loss to No. 2 Florida.

"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. The false sense of superiority after Ginn's touchdown quickly disappeared in Ohio State's worst defeat since Penn State drubbed the Buckeyes 63-14 on Oct. 29, 1994.

``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. 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," receiver Anthony 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.

"For whatever reason, we just didn't come out to play as well as we could," 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."

Coaches often say they need to look at the films before they can say what happened in a game. It might be a while before the Buckeyes can stomach watching this one.

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

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

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