Wednesday, December 18
Can the Buckeyes weather the storm?
By Kirk Herbstreit
Special to ESPN.com
On paper, the national championship game between Miami and Ohio State looks like a huge mismatch. Judging solely on the Xs and Os one would think the Hurricanes would win easily because, as Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, this 'Canes team is arguably the best in the history of college football.
Miami has one of the top three offenses in the nation along with USC and Iowa, and like the other two its strength is that is can hurt teams in so many different ways.
Ken Dorsey leads what may be the best offense in the nation.
The Hurricanes have a quarterback in Ken Dorsey who is 38-1 as a starter, the team as a whole has won 34 straight games and the 'Canes walk into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl feeling as though it is their game to win. The more pressure and hype, the brighter the lights and the bigger the stage, the better Miami plays.
But what has gotten coach Larry Coker's team has into trouble this year is letting its guard down and taking opponents lightly. Teams have not been able to beat Miami with schemes and physical talent, but the Hurricanes have had to battle complacency all year.
That has been the issue against teams like Florida State, Pittsburgh and even Rutgers, but now the 'Canes are playing for back-to-back national titles and a shot at rings for both their mothers and their girlfriends. You can rest assured that when they take the field in Tempe they will be incredibly focused.
A lot of people are saying that Ohio State is not worthy of being in this game, but don't tell Miami that because for it this game is not about OSU. As far as Miami is concerned any team in the nation in the other lockerrom. The 'Canes are really playing themselves.
They look in the mirror and know they have the best team in the country. It doesn't matter who they play. The Hurricanes will study and prepare for whatever that team that it happens to be and go out and play their game feeling no one can stop them. When you have won 38 of your last 39 games you are allowed to think that way.
Miami will study the Buckeyes but won't know anybody's name, just numbers. By the time the 'Canes take the field they will know the Ohio State tendencies and what they need to do to dominate the game. In their mind it is just a matter of getting on the field.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, will come in having heard every talk show and columnist in America say for three weeks that they have no chance and are an embarrassment to the BCS. That can becomes an advantage. Hearing that over and over again gives OSU an emotional incentive -- which most think will last for the first three or four minutes of the game -- to go out and prove people wrong.
As much as the media and some college football fans want to say Ohio State is not talented enough to be on the same field with Miami, they forget the Buckeyes have a stories program that is used to playing in big games. When you tell them they have no chance it allows them to go into the game with nothing to lose.
That being said, OSU's only chance in this game is to survive the first 10 minutes. After hearing so much about Miami's expected domination, the worst thing that could happen would be for Ohio State go out and give up one of Miami's patented quick scoring drives with Dorsey and running back Willis McGahee hitting big plays. That would create too much doubt.
The Buckeyes MUST start well. They have to force a punt on Miami's first series to show themselves they can hang with the Hurricanes. On offense, they have to give the ball to Maurice Clarett but also throw the ball some in first-and-10 situations in order to pick up some first downs. They have to be able to walk to the sidelines after the first possession saying "Hey, we can play with these guys."
If Ohio State goes three-and-out and the Hurricanes turn around and get a quick score, that negative vibe OSU has been feeling for a month becomes reality. All of a sudden it has its hands full.
Whether or not the Buckeyes can survive the emotional storm of the first few minutes will tell OSU whether or not it can be competitive, because Miami is a team that can attack like an avalanche. The score might be 7-3, and the next thing you know an interception is returned for a touchdown, a punt is blocked for a TD, McGahee rips off a long scoring run and six minutes later the score is 28-3. That is something OSU will have to avoid to have a chance. be competitive.
Ohio State's offensive play calling will be affected by the way its own defense is playing. If the D can battle with the Hurricanes and not give up a lot of points, we will see a game plan similar to the one Jim Tressel has run all year: conservative, close to the vest, avoiding mistakes and relying on defense and special teams to keep his team in the game.
But if Dorsey, McGahee and friends are picking up yards and points in chunks, Tressel will obviously have to throw more on first and second down to go against tendencies.
Miami is going to come out with nine men at the line of scrimmage to try and take away tailback Maurice Clarett and the Ohio State running game. It's as simple as that. The Hurricanes will force quarterback Craig Krenzel to make plays for OSU to move the ball, but he may find it tough going against the No. 1 pass defense in the country.
Clarett is a great back and he will prove to the nation just how good he is by picking up some tough yards, but for the Buckeyes to truly move down the field they will have to mix in the play-action pass more than they have at any other point this year.
After playing Nebraska in last year's national championship game the Miami players are probably looking at OSU as the same kind of opponents. A big, strong, thick-ankled Big Ten team without much speed. But the speed of the Ohio State defense will surprise the 'Canes.
If the Ohio State defense compares to any other Miami has faced it would be a team like Pittsburgh, and if looking back at that game you will see the Panthers did a good job of mixing up their defensive looks. The Buckeyes will have to do the same thing to try and slow McGahee first, which will require sound tackling, and then try to get pressure on Dorsey.
Their only chance to win will be to hold the Hurricanes to 20 points or less.