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January 5, 2007

Notebook: Buckeyes shaking off the rust

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Will the Scarlet & Gray be dulled by a coat of rust?

That has been a subject of much speculation as No. 1 Ohio State gears to play No. 2 Florida for the college football national championship on Monday night.

Nearly two months have passed since Ohio State defeated Michigan 42-39 on Nov. 18. The victory gave the Buckeyes the Big Ten crown and clinched a spot in the national championship game.

How will the Buckeyes will be affected by the extended layoff?

The Buckeyes say they won't. In fact, they say they haven't had a layoff even though they will go 51 days between games.

"The thing a whole bunch of people don't understand is how hard we work," senior defensive end Jay Richardson said. "We don't feel like we've had a layoff. We've been trying to get better as a team."

Richardson said the Buckeyes have spent the last month scrimmaging and participating in full contact drills. He even suggested a game week would have been easier.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel also dismissed the notion that the Buckeyes will be rusty, and said they've done everything possible to stay sharp.

"We don't feel as if we have had a layoff," Tressel said. "We have been working pretty hard since the day the season was over. You try to practice as fast as you can. That's all we were allowed to do. We weren't allowed to go out and have a scrimmage with another team. We have done all we can do to emulate the game."

Junior wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez acknowledged the time between games, but pointed out that Florida hasn't played in more than a month since defeating Arkansas for the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 2.

"The thing about that, both of us have a layoff," Gonzalez said. "It would be one thing if they played last week and we haven't played in two months or something like that. But both of us have a huge layoff, so I think it is a complete non-issue."

History would seem to confirm that. The Buckeyes completed the 2002 regular season with a 14-9 victory over Michigan on Nov. 23 and then waited 40 days before upsetting No. 1 Miami for the national championship on Jan. 3.

No Small role

Ohio State freshman wide receiver Ray Small has just eight catches this season, but is already making a significant contribution for the BCS championship game.

The 6-foot, 175-pounder from Cleveland is playing the role of Florida's dangerous freshman Percy Harvin on the Buckeyes' scout team, and apparently offers an excellent facsimile.

"You guys can mark this down in your books right now," senior defensive tackle David Patterson told reporters. "There is a guy named Ray Small he will be the next great one at Ohio State.

"He gives us a tremendous look every day. He plays Percy Harvin for us. He can do that cutting that Percy Harvin does. He can catch the ball. He can line up in the 'I' formation, line up in the shotgun, take the snap and do a lot of things well. When you are getting that look every day at practice, you can't help but get better."

A Buckeye inspiration

Tyson Gentry, a former walk-on punter and receiver who has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a debilitating injury in a freak accident during an Ohio State spring practice last April 14, was at Friday's press conferences at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

And teammates said that he should be there.

"I'm proud of him. He's a strong, tough, kid," Richardson said. "I'm happy to see him and he's as much a part of the team as me or Troy Smith). He's done a good job of keeping his head up."

Gentry fell awkwardly after trying to catch a pass. At the time no one realized he had such a serious injury because he hadn't taken a hard hit.

"He went down and for a split second I thought he would pop right back up because he wasn't hit," Richardson said. "But as the minutes went by I got a sick feeling in my stomach."

Better than expected

Florida receiver Dallas Baker, who leads the Gators with 56 catches for 897 yards and nine touchdowns, admitted that he's amazed his career has been so successful.

He originally signed with Florida out of high school in February 2001, but did not enroll and went to prep school in Massachusetts. He finally arrived at Florida in 2002 and caught just 13 passes his first season and had 26 as a sophomore.

However, last season he emerged with 52 catches and was named MVP of the Outback Bowl.

"I didn't think it would end like this at all, really," Baker said. "I thought I would probably not be graduating and probably leaving my career with 12 catches and 100 yards total.

"I am just happy to be here. Coming from a prep school and now having an opportunity to win a national championship and graduating . it's something I will probably write a book about later on."

Buck-Eyes of the Tiger?

The uniform colors are different, but Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said the Ohio State defense is remarkably similar to Louisiana State's.

"You know, I really compare them a lot to the LSU defense," Mullen said. "When you look out there you just see a solid group. I think when you game plan, the first thing you do is try to find a weakness to attack. When you look at Ohio State, they have a great defensive front. They have a solid group of linebackers and they have a secondary that makes a bunch of big plays. You don't see that weakness."

Statistics bear out the similarities.

LSU allowed 93.3 rushing yards to rank 14th in the country in run defense. Ohio State ranked 15th, allowing 93.5 yards. LSU ranked third in total defense, while Ohio State ranks 12th.

Florida rushed for 97 yards and passed for 191 in a 23-10 victory over LSU earlier this season. The Gators capitalized on a fumbled punt to score a touchdown and a fumbled kickoff to register a safety in that game.

Mullen said the Gators must capitalize on their scoring opportunities against Ohio State, because he doesn't anticipate there will be many of them.

"When the opportunities are there to make plays you have to do them," he said.

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



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