Instant Analysis: 2009 BCS Championship Game

Staff Columnist
Posted Jan 9, 2009

How appropriate it was that a man named Bill Belichick had a stadium seat when Urban Meyer became the first coach in the BCS era to win two national championship games. Pro football's title-winning titan watched inside Dolphin Stadium as his friend became the king of the college game.

Florida's 24-14 win over Oklahoma wasn't artful or awesome, but the Gators' display of determined defense in Miami lifted them to new heights in the college football world. By winning a battle of big-money programs on the sport's biggest stage, Florida became the first program ever to win two BCS titles in a span of three seasons. Not even the unendingly dominant USC Trojans can match that feat. Pete Carroll treasures urban healing in the gritty sections of Los Angeles, but this gridiron goliath in Gainesville has given football its ultimate Urban renewal project.

Just how did the Gators manage to stop the Sooners and give Bob Stoops another painful defeat in a supreme showdown? Tim Tebow—now the greatest Gator legend this side of Danny Wuerffel—might have led a drive for the ages in the fourth quarter, when the outcome hung in the balance, but in order to find the biggest key to Florida's fulfilling win, one only needed to look to the white-shirted defense that stole the show for the SEC champions, who just added an even bigger piece of hardware to their trophy collection.

The most defining images from this game are made particularly haunting for Oklahoma fans because they came at the same point on the field where the Sooners lost control of their last national title game, which doubled as their last January visit to Miami. In the 2005 Orange Bowl, the five yards in front of the west end zone of Dolphin Stadium formed the scene of a fumbled punt by Sooner return man and wide receiver Mark Bradley. The loose ball was recovered by USC, and promptly turned into a touchdown. That turnover completely changed the game's momentum, demoralizing the Sooners and supercharging the Trojans, who proceeded to score 48 of that game's next 51 points.

Thursday night, that same end of the field witnessed another Oklahoma unraveling that gave Florida a new lease on life.

Driving toward that west end zone in the ballpark that replaced the Orange Bowl stadium as Miami's house of college football champions, the Sooners—tied at 7-all midway through the second quarter—faced a third-and-goal just inside the Florida 1. Having rammed the ball through the Gators' front seven behind running back Chris Brown, OU wisely decided to stay with a formula that had been providing consistent offensive production.

There was just one problem: Florida decided to get tougher when short-yardage situations came calling. The charges of Charlie Strong—a man who eclipsed Bob Stoops as Florida's most successful defensive coordinator (with two national titles compared to the one crown Stoops gained under Steve Spurrier in the 1996 season)—showed their best brand of ball when placed in particularly tight spots.

Gator defenders Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes stacked up Brown on that third-down snap. Then, on fourth down, Florida's interior lineman, Torrey Davis, rocked Brown for a two-yard loss. The goal-line stand was perhaps the biggest piece of big-game grit since linebacker Dave Bunz helped the San Francisco 49ers deny the Cincinnati Bengals in the third quarter of Super Bowl XVI. Yes, goal-line stands in championship battles are few and far between, and Florida's feat qualified as a classic display of manhood in a money situation.

OU's horror show near the west end zone of Dolphin Stadium was not yet over. Just a few minutes later, the Sooners got the ball back and marched smartly to the Florida 6 with 10 seconds left in the first half. Oklahoma was hardly assured of seven points, but a field goal was a likely bet as long as Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford either avoided an interception or—in the event of a completed pass—threw the ball into the end zone.

On a night when he didn't play all that poorly, Bradford chose the worst possible moment to make his worst decision of the game. The superb signal caller showed a balky brain in this one agonizing instance, committing both of the sins he had to steer clear of. Bradford did not throw the ball into the end zone, and when Florida cornerback Joe Haden jumped the route just outside the one-yard line, the ball popped into the air, and UF safety Major Wright plucked the pigskin for a pick that kept the score tied at halftime. Instead of leading by a bare minimum of 10 points at the break, the Sooners had little to show for their generally superior showing. Once again, the west end zone of Dolphin Stadium stomach-punched the Sooners. Opportunities that had to be cashed into points instead went begging for the Crimson and Cream.

Tebow—granted a reprieve after throwing two first-half interceptions of his own—would make sure his defense's heroics, including a huge fourth-quarter interception by Ahmad Black, would not be wasted.

Florida's spiritual leader singlehandedly spearheaded the Gators' two second-half touchdown drives. Running the ball with authority on the first drive, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner then pitched the pigskin on his team's second touchdown march, an epic journey that sealed the win by giving UF a two-possession lead with only 3:07 left in regulation time. Tebow's first-half mistakes vanished into the night when his fourth-quarter quality emerged for all to see.

The numbers didn't paint an accurate picture of this game on a larger level. With the two teams combining for 843 total yards, a higher score should have been produced. However, the stats did tell the story on Tebow's crowning fourth-quarter foray to the Oklahoma end zone… yes, the very same west end zone at Dolphin Stadium.

The Gators gained the glow of glory when they covered 76 yards on 11 plays in 6:52, clinching the contest on the scoreboard while stealing nearly half a quarter from OU's offense. Even more impressive was Tebow's 6-of-6 passing performance on the drive, which included two ballsy third-down conversions that, interestingly enough, followed shocking false-start penalties from nervous left tackle Phil Trautwein. The first third-down conversion came when Tebow hit receiver Riley Cooper for 17 yards on a third-and-12 in Gator territory. Later, on a third-and-6 from the OU 16, Tebow used a shovel pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez—the same play that enabled Florida to convert a mammoth third down against Alabama in the SEC title game—to move the sticks once again. When Tebow then dusted off his famous jump pass to hit David Nelson with a 4-yard scoring strike, the Gators had their two-possession bulge, and Urban Meyer gained an elevated place in the pantheon of college football's greatest coaches.

And so, a college football season ends with Meyer not only owning a BCS crown, but owning it in front of Belichick, and in the shadows of a perfect season produced by his prize pupil, a former defensive coordinator who is now the head coach of the undefeated Utah Utes: Kyle Whittingham. Meyer had an NFL admirer watching him in Miami, and he had a standout student from his Utah days viewing this game on television. Florida's coach has football friends in very high places, and a high place is exactly what Urban Meyer is inhabiting after a (Charlie) Strong defense and a legendary quarterback carried him to the finish line against a snake-bitten Sooner squad.