"This" will take place in a few days when Miami travels to Ohio State for an early season showdown, in a typical put-up, or shut-up game for both sides. The stakes are high for both, as expectations are high, and the loser will find themselves questioning where things are for their program.
For Ohio State, it's once again a big game when they're sitting near the top of the polls, a scenario that hasn't played out too well in the past few years. This edition of the Buckeyes claims they're different than the teams in the past that were highly-ranked, but got rolled in big games, such as losses to Florida, LSU and USC. By 7:30 Saturday night, the world will see if things are truly different for the 2010 Ohio State team.
Miami isn't under as much pressure, and I wouldn't call it a "must-win" game, but there is a lot on the line for a program that feels they are on their way back to being among the elite in college football. They also felt that way last year heading into a bowl game against Wisconsin, one in which they crawled into the fetal position and cried "No mas", reminiscent of Roberto Duran quitting in the ring against Ray Leonard. So there is a lot on the line for the Miami reputation, as well as head coach Randy Shannon's national perception as a poor game-day head coach. Obviously, all that changes if they walk out of Columbus as the victor.
What are the keys to victory, as well as the top matchups to watch Saturday? What does each team want to do, and what does each HAVE to do, in order to emerge with a win?
Terrelle Pryor.Jacory Harris. This is the dream matchup for two of the more celebrated recruits of the 2008 high school class. Both entered college as highly-acclaimed recruits, and both played as freshmen. It's hard to envision a scenario where either quarterback can play poorly Saturday and still see their teams win the game. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, and both have suffered from turnovers in past losses. Which quarterback takes command on Saturday and makes plays down the stretch, leading his team to the win? Harris will need to be able to get the ball deep to his wide receivers, who are capable of making big plays in the passing game. Pryor will look to use his legs outside the pocket, especially if Miami relies on blitzing their linebackers in an attempt to get pressure. The Ohio State receivers should see a lot of man coverage, and must be able to get open and make plays for Pryor, to keep drives alive. Want a simple key to victory for these two stars? Check the turnover margin at the end of the game, and you should have your answer.
THE OFFENSIVE LINES
Mike Adams.Joel Figueroa. These are only two of the key performers on each line, but each needs to play well for their teams. Figueroa was the one linemen singled out by Wisconsin coaches this spring, off the record, when they were in Florida for the spring evaluation period. They felt he was a stud, and they had a hard time with him. Miami is basically putting five guards on the line, and Figueroa and fellow tackle Orlando Franklin MUST be able to control the outside speed rushers of Ohio State, Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams, or it could get ugly for Harris in the pocket. For Ohio State, the left tackle spot has been a problem for over a year, and the hope is that Adams is ready to fulfill the vast potential he had coming out of high school. Should Ohio State be forced to keep tight end Jake Stoneburner in to help Adams in pass protection, that eliminates a key threat in the passing game. One only needs to look back at Miami trying to defend the Wisconsin tight ends in last year's bowl game to see how important Stoneburner needs to be as a receiving threat. If he is needed in pass protection, Pryor's effectiveness could be significantly weakened. Big games are still won in the trenches, and while Ohio State seemingly has the edge up front, the group that gets dominated by their defensive line opponents will probably lose. Pass protection will be huge for Miami, while Ohio State must be able to run the football, and not count on Pryor throwing the ball 35-40 times. The Miami offensive line must control the Buckeye defensive front head up, and force Ohio State to commit linebackers to the pass rush. It's hard to imagine Miami consistently knocking the Ohio State front four off the ball, so draws and screens could be used as the running game. Should Miami be able to rush for 100 yards, the odds of winning increase drastically. If Ohio State churns out 75 yards in 31 rushing attempts, it's going to be a long day for that offense.
OHIO STATE DEFENSIVE BACKS VS. MIAMI RECEIVERS
Leonard Hankerson.Devon Torrence. Again, the above listed players are only a part of the story for each unit, because this battle is basically one group against the other, with the one-on-one battles telling the tale. The Miami receiving core brings speed and talent to the table, and will be aided by the fact that Ohio State is not a great team bringing pressure with the four down linemen. Will Ohio State be forced to blitz Harris often, leaving their defensive backs in tough matchups, or will the Buckeyes drop the linebackers in coverage, giving Harris more time to throw? A lot will be determined by how well the Ohio State secondary matches up with the Miami receivers, and it is a tough matchup, for sure. Watch and see how this unit fares early in the first half against the Hurricane wideouts, for this matchup could determine Ohio State's defensive strategy.
How does the controversial BCS championship game of 2003 impact this game? What part will over 100,000 Buckeye fans play in this battle? What about the coaches, and their roles?
1- The "controversial" championship game of 2003 is over, and will mean nothing to these players, most of whom were in junior high school the day that game was played. Should Miami win, there's no doubt it will be brought up continually on ESPN in every interview, but the truth is that aspect is for bitter Hurricane fans that cannot accept that their team got slugged in the mouth for four shots inside the two yard line, with a chance to send the game to another overtime. Seven years later? They're still on the two yard line, and four downs, or forty downs later, they could not and would not score. The "call" only kept the game going. The goal-line butt-kicking ending it.
2- Ohio State loves to revel in their amazing home crowd advantage, only it's a myth, and doesn't exist. Some of the loudest, greatest, most awesome crowds I've ever seen in that stadium were in the past few years. Against Texas and Vince Young. Against Michigan and Chad Henne. Against USC and Matt Barkley. And all three quarterbacks moved the football late in those games with ease, even with the ear-splitting crowds screaming at them. Throw in Illinois from a few years ago, upsetting the top-ranked team in America and laughing at an overflow crowd yelling their collective lungs out. Players win games. Not fans. Period.
3- The coaching aspect? Now, we have a real point to ponder, and both head men have something to prove.
Randy Shannon has improved the Miami record in every season he has been in charge, yet there seems to be lingering doubts of whether he can truly return the Canes to prominence. A new contract is great, but what's the buyout, and what happens if the Canes go 7-5? Make no mistake, this is a HUGE game for Randy Shannon, and a win goes a long way toward job security for the man. A loss isn't crushing, but it could set the tone for how the 2010 Miami season will transpire.
Jim Tressel has no job security issues at all. ZERO. As it should be. But if you think he isn't positively burning for another national title, you need to put down the hookah pipe and allow your head to clear. This is the team he has been waiting for since the day Terrelle Pryor announced he was headed to Columbus, to join the great recruiting class known as the Brew Crew. A loss to Miami seriously cripples Ohio State's hopes for another title, and nobody knows this better than the Boss. The Miami game is a big game for Jim Tressel and there is a lot of pressure to win it.
As much as I want to be popular in my state, my city and my neighborhood, I want to be right far more. So call me a homer if you like, but in the years I've been doing this internet gig, I have never predicted an undefeated season for Ohio State. Not once in the last 14 years. Until now.
I'm buying the hype on the Ohio State players, and I feel this is potentially the best team of the Tressel era. This appears to be a team with no apparent glaring weakness, and we will know far more about that statement come Saturday evening.
It's no secret that past Buckeye teams have not handled being the hunted very well, and I've written about that in the past. I think this team is prepared to handle the weight of tremendous expectations, and not just survive, but prosper.
I think Miami is a good team, and wrote that once I saw them in person last spring during their open scrimmage. They have a chance to be very good in 2010, and I have a lot of respect for Randy Shannon, both as a coach and as a man.
But this isn't their time, and it won't be their day, come Saturday. Las Vegas has made Ohio State a ten-point favorite in this game, and I think the gambling gurus have it correctly targeted.
I see a tough first half, possibly with Miami taking an early lead. But the depth and talent of Ohio State will take over in the second half, pressuring Jacory Harris and shutting down the Miami offense. Terrelle Pryor will make plays, both with his arm and his legs, in his Heisman Trophy campaign opening salvo.
In the end, I see Ohio State winning this game in convincing, but not dominating, fashion. I'm calling it Ohio State 31 Miami 17. Take that to the Bank.