Can't wait for Clarett

It's the equivalent of seeing the neighborhood bully approaching in a dark alley, being trapped in a bar fight by Mike Tyson or being chased by a pit bull in a dead end street. All right maybe it's not that bad. Still a good portion of teams around the country would probably balk at the opportunity of facing one of the premier running backs in college football.

Just don't add the University of Miami Hurricanes to that list.

One of the prime tasks awaiting the defending national champion Hurricanes (12-0) when they face Ohio State (13-0) in the Fiesta Bowl, Friday, Jan. 3 is figuring out how to put the brakes on Buckeyes running back Maurice Clarett. But the much-maligned Hurricanes defensive unit isn't shying away at the chance of trying to stop against the freshman from Youngstown, Ohio.

"Just watching him a little on film you can see how quick he hits the gaps and the ability he has to make guys miss," said University of Miami safety Sean Taylor. "But we can't wait to go up against him. You always like to measure yourself against the best talent and he is definitely one of the best."

Only five Division I schools finished ahead of the Hurricanes in total defense this season. Miami allowed 286.50 yards per game and a season-high 27 points to Florida State back in October. But a closer look at the Hurricanes this season would detail a unit that had plenty of problems in containing the opposition's running game.

Miami's defensive front, which includes Andrew Williams, Vince Wilfork and William Joseph, had NFL scouts raving before the start of the season. But a mixture of poor tackling and lack of penetration has created some problems.

Florida State running back Greg Jones ran for 189 yards and the Seminoles totaled 298 yards on the ground against the Hurricanes. And West Virginia put up 363 rushing yards on the Canes, a season-high total allowed by the defending national champions. All but two of Miami's opponents during the regular season surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark. The Hurricanes held Florida A&M to a season's best 61 yards but the Hurricanes still finished 70th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 167 yards a game.

Now comes Clarett.

Clarett, who rushed for 1,190 yards this season despite missing three games with a shoulder injury, is the centerpiece of Ohio State's offense and has been lauded as the main reason why the Buckeyes are four quarters away from their first national title in 34 years.

Clarett reminds many around Columbus, Ohio of Eddie George, another great former OSU running back. Clarett averaged 6.0 yards a carry this season and found the end zone 14 times. But that tells only part of the impact he's had on the squad.

Ohio State racked up 372 yards a contest offensively to finish among the top 70 in the country in that category. But it was mostly Clarett who sparked a rushing attack that gained 194.85 yards a game. Clarett had seven 100-yard performances, including a season-high 230 against Washington State. But it was in games against Illinois and Cincinnati -in games which he did not dress- that his absence was felt. Ohio State escaped with narrow victories in both games.

"He's a big part of what they do," said UM linebacker Jonathan Vilma. "We have to keep our ground and play smart against him. But he is just one player."

But a good one that the Hurricanes know has the capability of a big game. The 6-foot and 230-pounder has the ability to make his way through a small seam in the line of scrimmage and can overpower would-be tacklers as well. The Hurricanes hope that they can put pressure on Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel to limit that damage Clarett can cause. Miami is also confident that their speed will affect the outcome of the game.

"Don't get me wrong he has our respect," said Taylor. "But we've seen a lot of good running backs this season."

Including UM running back Willis McGahee.

Taylor said that having to tackle McGahee in practice everyday is something that can only help prepare for Clarett. McGahee, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting after a 1,686-rushing season, undoubtedly provides a test for his teammates on a daily basis.

But McGahee won't be able to help against the Buckeyes.

"I can't wait to face him," said Wilfork. With everything on the line the Hurricanes plan on delivering their best defensive showing of the year.

"We've struggled," said Taylor. "But we can't dwell on that. We have to move on."

Canes Time Top Stories