Mission Impossible? Not for Dantonio

Mark Dantonio's defense is going to have their hands full in the Fiesta Bowl against Miami's high-powered offense, but he is up to the task. Dave Biddle talked with Coach Dantonio about Miami and other topics.

Mark Dantonio has respect for Miami's offense. A lot of respect.


But don't confuse that respect with fear. In fact, the Buckeye defensive coordinator seems to be approaching the national championship game with a great deal of confidence in his troops.


And why shouldn't he?


The Bucks are the top defense in the Big Ten (both scoring and total yards) and are arguably the top unit in the country.


So forgive Dantonio if he doesn't agree with the masses.


Forgive him if he thinks Miami's offense will have as much trouble preparing for Ohio State's defense as OSU's defense will have preparing for UM's quick-strike offense.


"They've got weapons, they wouldn't be in the position they are if they didn't," Dantonio said. "But I'd like to think that we wouldn't be in the position that we are without having good players as well."


Most of the national media isn't giving the Buckeyes much of a chance. They are making the mistake of comparing OSU to last year's Nebraska's team. Is Dantonio using that as a motivational tool for his players? Not that they need any more reason to get fired up to play for the national title, but is the lack of respect mentioned at all in the meeting rooms?


"Well, you know, all those guys that are talking probably really haven't put on many pads in life. So, no, we really haven't said much about stuff like that. I know where we're at as a football team. I know what we bring to the table. We'll play on our strengths and we'll find out who is better. Yeah, it's a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it and I'm sure all of the state of Ohio is looking forward to it too," Dantonio said.


Got that right.


So, what does the second-year coordinator think are the keys to the game for Ohio State's defense?


"I think anytime you play in a championship game like this, it comes down to the ability to make tackles in space. When you've been off for a month and then all of a sudden you have to go and play skill like that, it makes it even more important that you prepare and emphasize that throughout your practices. To me, it's going to come down to basic fundamentals: getting off the blocks, running and tackling in space and playing the ball in the deep part of the field. ... They are explosive. Certainly with (Willis) McGahee, the game will be close and he'll bust a long run. Or (Andre) Johnson will get loose. He's a big receiver with good speed. They've got a couple other receivers, (Kellen) Winslow at tight end gives them a mismatch player a little bit, so we have to do some things there because he is very athletic," Dantonio said.


But every time Dantonio praised Miami, he also made sure to praise his defense. Plain and simple, Mark Dantonio isn't buying into the hype.


"I'm very confident that our players will line up and compete and play with toughness. And when you do that, you always have a chance. I have a lot of confidence in our defense. Miami has a lot of weapons that can do some things, but I like to think that we have things that we can do."


Like what specifically?


"We can pressure the quarterback. We have to get after the quarterback; I think that's a must. Whether it's by doing something coverage-wise, or bringing some type of pressure, but you have to affect the quarterback in any game and especially in this one. We also have to guard against the big play and just make sure we are mixing things up against them."


Scheme-wise, is Dantonio expecting anything new from the Hurricane offense?


"I'm sure they will have some new wrinkles, but they are not very complicated. They do what they do and they do it extremely well. They are a two-back team predominantly and we don't expect that will change."


Once again, Dantonio wanted to make clear that his guys will not be backing down.


"We are just going to line up and see who's better. It will be interesting, but I know our guys are looking forward to it and you know as well as I do that you don't come to Ohio State and play for second best. You come to Ohio State to play for the championship and to be a champion," Dantonio said.


Helping boost Dantonio's confidence is the fact that he has first-team All-Americans Mike Doss and Matt Wilhelm for one more game.


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