Fiesta Bowl Game Plan

With the Hurricanes a two touchdown favorite entering this game, let's take an in-depth look at what will happen when in a variety of scenarios. Ohio State has its work cut out for it in this game to say the least. We'll break down what could happen when each teams has the ball and chooses to run or pass. Also we'll take a look at the intangibles each team brings to the game.



The most important thing that the Miami team needs to do in this game is establish the run. I know this. You know this. Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel definitely knows this. Each team that Miami has played over the past two seasons since Miami lost Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne to the pros has known this, yet no team has yet to figure out a way to stop the Miami offensive onslaught in their 34 straight victories leading up to this showdown with OSU. Obviously it starts with a crafty tailback: Clinton Portis in 2001, Willis McGahee this season. Ironically enough, McGahee, a 224-pound multi-dimensional runner maintains that he is most proud of his ability to block and protect the quarterback. This is not by accident. For the good of the team, McGahee bulked up after Najeh Davenport was injured late in 2001 and started for the first time at any position as fullback in the 2002 Rose Bowl. With Portis and true freshman Frank Gore having the tailback amply covered for the Nebraska game, McGahee was asked to learn all of Davenport's assignments. Most importantly, he was responsible for picking up any blitzing Nebraska defensive player and getting his body between QB Ken Dorsey and the rushing Cornhusker at all costs. He graded out at an A. Going into this spring, Hurricane insiders believed that Gore had the inside track to be the premier starting tailback when Portis bolted for the pros. and the status of McGahee was uncertain. That all changed when Gore tore up his ACL in one of the final spring practices. Now, suddenly McGahee was the man, TB Jarrett Payton has replaced Jason Geathers as the back-up tailback as Geathers has moved back to receiver due to an injury to WR Kevin Beard against Pitt, and Quadtrine Hill bulked up from his true tailback frame to be the versatile fullback Miami needed for the entire 2002 season.

So for twenty-four games over the last two seasons Miami has felt it paramount to get the running game going in order to establish offensive domination over their opponent. After the 2001 season, Miami's United Nation's of an O-Line lost a guard and a pair of All America bookend tackles – one of whom was the second O-Lineman drafted overall – to the NFL and were left with only two returning starters, both seniors and both Canadian. Center Brett Romberg not only hands the ball to QB Ken Dorsey every play, but lives with him as well; and Sherko Haji-Rasouli, who moved with his parents to Canada from Iran during the Revolution starts at the left guard position, with sophomore Chris Myers at right guard. Sophomore tackle and local product Carlos Joseph is destined to become a carbon copy of All America tackle Bryant McKinnie guarding Dorsey's backside, and along with highly touted junior Vernon Carey the two have done an outstanding job filling the shoes of the bookend tackles. According to McGahee, this year's crew – despite the lack of a big name -- just might be better run blockers than last year's line.

Using the running game of iron man McGahee, and high percentage screen passes to McGahee as well as play-action passes to both backs McGahee and Hill; and short, safe timing routes to receivers and tight ends against the OSU defense will force the Buckeyes to play an eighth man in the box from the beginning in senior strong safety AA Michael Doss, and as long as Miami is successful at gaining positive yardage and moving the chains with this game plan of running McGahee off-tackle combined with risk averse passes needed to keep the Buckeye secondary honest, Ohio State will be forced into putting a ninth man up in the box in senior FS Donnie Nickey in an attempt to contain the run, which will leave Hurricane stars TE Kellen Winslow II covered by ALL BIG TEN linebacker Matt Wilhelm, but he will never cover KII with Winslow's speed, and WR's Andre Johnson and Roscoe Parish to be left isolated in man-to-man coverage. Starting left cornerback Chris Gamble is a legitimate corner and will be a candidate for post-season awards himself in another season, yet he is still has a lot of learning to do despite his talents. Matching him up one-on-one against Johnson will be far too much for the Ohio State's premier cornerback to handle. The entire OSU defense ranks fourth in the country against the run and has four All Big Ten players among it starters. Even with those gaudy statistics, however, Miami's balanced offense and quick strike capabilities are grounded in its ability to run the ball. EDGE – MIAMI


Despite the fact that QB Ken Dorsey owns virtually every major record in the books for Miami quarterbacks, the backlash against him in the media this season has been epic. UF quarterback Rex Grossman, no great lover of UM as a team and admittedly not particularly fond of Dorsey, was the first runner-up for the Heisman Trophy last season. When asked his feelings on the competition for the Trophy this season, Grossman replied; "Dorsey … No question. The talent gap between Miami and the rest of the top teams in the country is minimal so you have to ask yourself what is the one constant that has allowed Miami to go undefeated for nearly three seasons? The answer is Ken Dorsey." High praise from one of your fiercest rivals. Despite the loss of Kevin Beard, which cannot be understated, the ‘Canes still have AA WR Andre Johnson as well as sure-handed Ethenic Sands, in addition to having Geathers back at his 2001 position, and look for a breakout game from speedy freshman Roscoe Parrish, who has been compared favorably to Santana Moss as well as former ‘Cane speedsters Kevin Williams and Randall Hill. The departure of Jeremy Shockey to the pros will go virtually unnoticed as Kellen Winslow II has become Dorsey's clutch receiver and security blanket in crucial situations this season and many scouts feel that he will be the best tight end to come through Miami in recent years, and Miami has true freshman Parade first-teamer Eric Winston to spell K2 when he needs a breather or when Miami wants to go into a double tight end or empty backfield set. Pass defense has been OSU'S Achilles Heal as they rank in the bottom quartile in Division One despite having two AA's as starting safeties. Still, the bottom line is that Miami has too much speed and too much depth at skill positions and Ken Dorsey and Willis McGahee will explode for at least two 50+ yard game breakers each. GIANT EDGE – MIAMI



A college football fan would have literally been undergoing a self-imposed blackout on all things NCAA gridiron not to have heard Maurice Clarett's name and see his highlights all over ESPN's College GameDay. Otherwise, this fabulous frosh tailback was spectacular in running for three straight one hundred yard games before he ever set foot in a class during his inaugural year of higher academia. Clarett broke Archie Griffith's freshman rushing yardage and rushing touchdown records. Yes, this is the same Archie Griffith ever to be the recipient of the Heisman Trophy on two occasions. So enthralled was America with Clarett (and apparently Maurice himself) that he had people talking to NFL scouts on his behalf to see whether or not he should attempt a jump to the pros that he was considering challenging in Federal Court the NFL rule about the ineligibility of drafting a player with less than two years in college. The advice that he received was an across-the-board NO. It is not unlike the famous quote attributed to John Elway when asked to comment on the main difference between the college and the professional football game. "It is basically the same thing except the other players are faster and stronger and the field is so much smaller!"

When word leaked out that Clarett had explored his options at the next level before quickly realizing he would need at least one more year of seasoning before being able to make the leap. Conventional Wisdom soon spread like wildfire that Clarett was a selfish player with no regard for the team, but the truth is he was just exploring his options like any prudent future multi-millionaire should do. Clarett has every bit of raw talent that McGahee has; what he doesn't have, though, is a redshirt season going up against one of the top run defenses in the country in 2000 (Miami's own) while on the scout team, nor does he have a second year freshman eligibility season playing in all sorts of situations in practice again on the scout team as well as playing sparingly in every Miami game save three DNP's due to injury where he accumulated well over 300 yards and scored three touchdowns while being exposed to such run-stopping defenses as Virginia Tech, Washington, and Nebraska. Nor was he unanimously selected by his teammates along with Winslow the hardest worker in the off-season the way that McGahee had been.

Clarett won over any doubters about his heart when he played while clearly injured during the Michigan game. At stake was the right to travel to Tempe for the TOSTITOS Fiesta Bowl. Early in the game, Clarett spotted his playing time – having not played nor practiced for two weeks – and it was evident that he was playing at maybe 75 percent. The coaches were tempted to sit him, until he refused as it soon became evident to everybody in attendance that Ohio State played like a different team when he was not on the field. Gone was the confidence; the Miami-like swagger. So Clarett reinserted himself into the game and led his team down the field on a 53-yard drive to score an important touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter in a goal-line situation, Ohio State ran a beautiful misdirection where the entire line and tight ends moved left in tandem while junior QB Craig Krenzel pitched the ball back and to the right with his own body moving left while back-up fellow tailback and fellow Maurice sophomore second stringer Mo Hill caught the pitch and went right and picked up the necessary five yards for a TD without a defender touching him.

Despite the fact that a few teams have been quite successful rushing against the vaunted Miami front seven, the Hurricanes simply refuse to switch from their base 4-3 with a two deep zone and two corners. They are the only team in college football that line up in a true 4-3-4 on just about every down. Against Clarett, I suspect that Miami will open the game in their base 4-3 and will continue to do so unless Clarett shreds them for six and seven yards a carry. The thing that most analysts neglect to mention when analyzing Miami's 4-3 is that they tend to have trouble against the run PRIMARILY when playing against a mobile quarterback as well as great running backs. No offense to OSU QB Craig Krenzel, BUT HE MAKES Kenny Dorsey look like a physical specimen. Calling the ‘Canes defensive line their front four is somewhat of a misnomer as their four linemen are so talented that, prior to the season ending injury to defensive end Cornelius Green, the Hurricanes would actually substitute all four starters en masse with no drop off in talent so as to always have a fresh front four. Of the eight defensive linemen, seven are projected as starters in the NFL. The competition among the D-Line is so competitive that the injury to Cornelius Green, while no doubt advantageous to the Buckeyes, impact has been substantially minimized as he went from being a starting defensive end in 2000 to backing up JC transfer and senior Jerome McDougle the past two seasons. Look for sophomore John Square to step in as the eighth down lineman who will play at defensive end alongside senior Andrew Williams, backing up McDougle and fellow senior Jamaal Green; William Joseph and Matt Walters will start at the tackles, while Santonio Thomas and Vince Wilfork are easily as talented as the players to whom they offer respite and a chance to hydrate. Six of the eight defensive linemen who played all season are seniors, but one who isn't is already considered the premier interior lineman for Miami and scouts will tell you that not since Warren Sapp have the experts seen an athletic specimen like sophomore Vince Wilfork and in all likelihood the only reason he isn't starting this season is because Greg Mark hopes he decides to stick around for his junior season.

As far as linebacker goes, Miami will rely on fellow Butkus Award semi-finalists weak side backer D.J. Williams and All America middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma along with Rocky McIntosh, who so impressed the coaches with his work in practice and his playmaking when the opportunity presented itself that he beat out incumbent Howard Clark for the strong side backer position midway into the season. The ‘Canes will NOT bring an eighth man into the box to stop Clarett from getting his yards. Miami harbors no illusions of winning the time of possession battle. The biggest concession you may see the ‘Canes make to battle the outstanding running of OSU is that they might possibly bring up their Free and Strong Safeties, Sean Taylor and Maurice Sikes, about two yards so that they can help out on the run and defend the run from the second they see the brown of the football fit snugly in the midriff of one of the backs and not a second before. Even in such a situation where Miami's safeties hesitate because of a flea-flicker, you will have Miami CB's Antrel Rolle and Kelly Jennings running stride for stride with WR Chris Gamble (yes, the two way player a la Charles Woodson, Dale Carter, and Deion Sanders before him) and leading receiver Michael Jenkins staying with their men until the whistle blows, and the make up speed of both Taylor and Sikes is better than their predecessors at their positions last season. SLIGHT EDGE – OHIO STATE


This isn't even close. The only reason that OSU will even bother throwing the ball is to keep the Miami safeties honest and keep Taylor and Sikes from entering the box, which they aren't considering doing, anyhow. Craig Krenzel has ZERO mobility. There is a reason that Miami is Number One against the pass by nearly thirty yards per game over any other division one team, that reason is speed, speed, and more speed in the Hurricane secondary. Do not expect Ohio State to pass for 100 yards in the entire game. Look for single digits in total completions for Ohio State. GIANT EDGE -- MIAMI


OSU Sophomore PK Mike Nugent is automatic from inside 45 yards. Senior Andy Groom will win the field position battle between the punters and is among the top two or three in the country. What looked to be a strongpoint coming into the season has turned into one of Miami's greatest vulnerabilities this season. Despite being one of three finalists for the Ray Guy award this season, senior punter Freddie Capshaw has had numerous punts blocked this season, and shanked his most important kick of his career and nearly cost Miami the chance to play in The Fiesta Bowl when he was most needed at the end of the FSU game with less than two minutes remaining. To be fair, though, all of Capshaw's punts that were blocked were the fault of breakdowns in protection -- something that has been improving -- and I am sure this will be addressed by the coaches leading up to the game, even if it means using primarily first teamers on the protection team. Senior place-kicker Todd Severs has been solid all season and has better than average range and accuracy out to fifty yards, and has forced touchbacks on half of his kickoffs this season. Sands and Parrish have rotated as punt returners and Geathers has done a solid job returning kickoffs, but it wasn't until the tenth game of the season when Miami was playing Pitt for Big East supremacy that Miami found a spark that resembled P-Buch in their return game when Sean Taylor converted on a reversed punt return from Roscoe Parrish and was escorted to the end zone by a convoy of Hurricane blockers. Combine that with the fake punt from Capshaw to Taylor in The ‘Cuse game, and add to that Roscoe Parrish's ability to take any kick to the House, and the special teams have gone from being a considerable edge for OSU to a push in the second half of the season. EDGE – EVEN


Coach Jim Tressel knows that he is a big underdog going into this game. He will need to take some chances and insert some plays that The Buckeyes have yet to run all year. Like the fourth and inches play where Krenzel threw to his second option for the win against Purdue and for the victory or the much talked about misdirection pitch against Michigan. The problem is, one or two plays Miami didn't see on tape will not fool them. Yes, Tressel had won multiple National Titles in Division 1AA at Youngstown State and comes from a coaching family. But more impressive when looking at coaching is that Miami's the only school in Division One football that has former players as both its coordinators'. If the ‘Canes are able to beat the Buckeyes they will also be raising the tally of their win streak to thirty-five straight games, which will be the longest streak in the history of modern day NCAA football when the sanctioning body imposed stricter scholarship limits by scaling schools back to 85 scholarship players per team. Look at the number of private universities that have stopped playing Division One football in the quarter of a century since this rule has been implemented. Even more rare is the number of private academic institutions that have thrived since the scholarship limit was imposed. And yet it is the green grassed and palm tree-lined beautiful campus of The University of Miami that surrounds Lake Osceola and its giant fountain tucked away in Coral Gables that has dominated the sport of college football over the last two decades, and under five different coaches that have created a DYNASTY unlike anything ever to come before it in the history of modern college football. If the scoreboard at the TOSTITOS Fiesta Bowl has a higher number glowing under the word ‘MIAMI' than it does under the words ‘OHIO STATE' as the last seconds tick off that clock nearly four hours after the singing of the National Anthem and the flyover of our fighter planes with the letters ‘USA' emblazoned upon them preceding the coin flip and the kickoff, then it will be a resilient core of players and a select few assistant coaches who recruited themselves during a state of flux and disarray in the University's Head-coaching ranks, and not mentioning Larry Coker's Herculean job of salvaging a stellar recruiting class despite being hired only days before National Letter of Intent day and in large part only because his players demanded his promotion would be damned near criminal, and who used the disrespect of a bowl invitation that went to the wrong Floridian school two season ago as motivation to take on all comers for the past two seasons until all skeptics should be silenced. Despite toying with the extremely athletic and deserving Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch in the Rose Bowl in which Miami destroyed Nebraska's option attack and put a hit on Dahrrin Dietrick is still being used on highlight reels of the 2001-02 season, and yet there were still pundits out there with two major complaints: A lack of big non-conference games and questions about the Big East as a football conference overall were the two criticisms that continued to abound. So Miami's beefed up 2002 schedule included three perennial Top Five opponents in The University of Florida, Tennessee, and FSU. The Big East also has the best bowl record of any of the major conferences with a record of 8-2 over the past two seasons. So if the Hurricanes win the Fiesta for their second straight National Title and make history with their SIXTH championship in two decades, their critics will have little choice but to shut up and offer congratulations. EDGE – MIAMI



BREAKDOWN - Just like in The Rose last year in Pasadena, look for the Fiesta to be over after Ohio State has its' first offensive possession come to an end early in the third quarter.

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