By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003
Miami has won 34 games in a row and is playing for its second straight national championship. Ohio State wasn't even favored to win the Big Ten, and it won six games by a touchdown or less, including the last three. It's easy to see why the Hurricanes are favored to defeat the Buckeyes tonight.
But Miami has appeared unbeatable before. UM fans might remember the 1986 and 1992 seasons, when undefeated squads were ranked No. 1 and strutted into a bowl game, only to be upset by Penn State and Alabama, respectively. Few gave the Nittany Lions a shot in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, or the Crimson Tide a chance in the 1993 Sugar Bowl.
So do the Buckeyes have a prayer? Yes, if they can succeed in these areas:
1. RUN THE BALL WITH MAURICE CLARETT: The Big Ten freshman of the year rushed for 1,210 yards and averaged 6. UM had trouble against strong running backs, including Florida State's Greg Jones (189 yards) and West Virginia's Avron Cobourne (175 yards). Clarett's success is the biggest key to an OSU victory.
2. GET ENOUGH PASSING PLAYS FROM CRAIG KRENZEL: Although 14-1 as a starter, Krenzel's numbers are not overwhelming. He threw for 1,988 yards and 12 touchdowns. His job is to manage the game, which he has done well. But he'll give Clarett a better chance to burn the Hurricanes if he can keep UM defenders honest. And with receivers Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble, OSU has the playmakers to test a strong UM secondary.
3. KEEP UM'S OFFENSE OFF THE FIELD: Even if the Buckeyes aren't scoring on every possession, they greatly increase their chances if they can control the clock and make the Hurricanes impatient. That's essentially what the Buckeyes did in their 13-7 victory over Penn State, a team they say is similar to Miami. OSU had the ball for more than 37 minutes. Penn State tailback Larry Johnson carried just 16 times for 66 yards. UM can't score if it doesn't have the ball.
4. DON'T ALLOW BIG PLAYS: Ohio State has made no secrets about its approach: It will try to stop UM tailback Willis McGahee and put the game in quarterback Ken Dorsey's hands. That's a dangerous proposition with receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Kellen Winslow. The Hurricanes have made teams pay for employing such a strategy. But with all-world cornerback Chris Gamble and hard-hitting safety Mike Doss, the Buckeyes have a couple of talented players in the secondary. And OSU has been a stingy defense all season, one that is allowing just 12.2 points per game. If the Buckeyes, indeed, want to make it their mission to stop McGahee, they better make sure UM's other playmakers don't hurt them.
5. KEEP THE GAME CLOSE: The longer the Buckeyes stay in the game, the better their chances. They played so many close games this season, they know how to handle such pressure. And playing from behind, especially against a strong UM secondary that allowed just 119.5 yards passing per game, will be difficult for a team that averaged just 177 passing yards against less formidable defenses.