2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Tempe, AZ January 3, 2003
The weeks of talking and waiting are over… the game is finally here. The showdown in the desert is about to take place as the Buckeyes are facing perhaps the ultimate challenge as they attempt to knock off the defending national champion (and possibly one of the best college football teams to ever take the field) in the Miami Hurricanes.
If you listen to the national analysts, Ohio State's chances of winning this game are about as good as me getting a date with Anna Kournikova. In other words, few people (if any) seem to be giving them much of a chance (while in the back of my mind, I keep telling myself it could happen…)
There's a good reason for the doubt. Miami is stacked top to bottom with not only NFL-caliber talent, but first-round-draft-pick-caliber-talent. It's there on the offensive side of the ball with standouts such as RB Willis McGahee, WR Andre Johnson, TE Kellen Winslow, and stars such as DE Jerome McDougle, DT William Joseph, and DB Sean Taylor are among the blue-chippers on the defensive side. This is a team that does not have much in the weakness department, and on top of all that, they seem truly focused and motivated to put on a great performance in this game. If you consider all that and Ohio State's sputtering on offense to close the year, it seems like the national experts might have some solid basis for their predictions.
We're here, however, to break down the game and talk about what OSU can do to win. Let's analyze it by position:
Quarterback: Everyone knows the name Ken Dorsey. The skin-and-bones kid from California has done nothing less than win every single game he has started except one, and that loss came over 30 games ago. Other quarterbacks may have more impressive physical skills (some would argue that his physical skills aren't even the best on his own team), but Dorsey is a poised leader and determined winner who can run his offense as effectively as anyone. The Buckeyes have a guy who might get a similar description in Craig Krenzel. Craig hasn't been one who has been compared with the Carson Palmers of the world as far as NFL-type ability, but he has been the man who has stepped in and become the leader on the OSU offense, running the show and not making mistakes. Krenzel has also shown an ability to scramble and is a better passer than most give him credit for. Dorsey is the big name here, but if there's a gap in talent between these two QBs, it might not be as big as many people think.
Running Back: The players at the running back position in this game need no introduction. Miami's Willis McGahee is a physical freak; he's someone with the size to bang on the inside in the NFL and the speed to outrun almost any defensive back. The Heisman finalist can do it all at his position as he has proven to be especially effective in catching passes as well as getting the tough yards on the ground. Stopping him will be a big key and a big challenge.
Meanwhile, many have voiced the opinion that the hopes of Ohio State offensively lie mostly on the shoulders of their true freshman phenom Maurice Clarett. Clarett fought with a stinger in his shoulder at the end of the regular season, but all signs suggest he'll be able to go and be effective in this game. Then there's the newest issue with Clarett…
On Monday, news surfaced that Clarett was angry with Ohio State because of the fact that he could not make it home to attend the funeral of a friend (this whole thing stinks a bit… it appears to me that the writer who asked him the question was trying to set him up, and now, there's an issue that OSU doesn't need). Because of this, the concern now exists that his head might not be in the right place for this game, but the guess here is that things will calm down in the time before the game and he'll be okay. That would be a good thing…
Clarett, when healthy, brings the type of running attack that would seem to be ideal for attacking Miami's defense. If he can go without any problems and be able to move the chains and eat the clock, it will be an advantage to OSU. At fullback, each team features players that won't be used very often as an offensive option – Quadtrine Hill for Miami and Branden Joe and Brandon Schnittker for OSU.
Which one of these outstanding running attacks will have the edge will be a big storyline in this game, and it is going to be fascinating to see which one comes out on top.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: The Miami roster of offensive All-Stars continues at these positions. Andre Johnson, a big and fast target who is a likely first-round NFL pick, is the feature wideout. He is joined by Ethenic Sands and Roscoe Parrish, an undersized but lightning-quick receiver who is a threat to score each time he touches the ball. The tight end position is headed up by Kellen Winslow, the brash but extremely talented star whose speed and athleticism poses a matchup problem for any team. The Buckeye defense will face a tremendous challenge keeping this group from making big plays.
OSU's receivers and tight ends might not quite be in the league of this group overall, but they aren't that far off. Chris Gamble compares well athletically, and Michael Jenkins is one of the unsung heroes of this team who has shown that he can burn opposing defenses. Ben Hartsock isn't the athlete that Winslow is, but he can be sneaky with his pass catching. So much is focused on OSU's running game, but don't forget about these guys. If Miami isn't careful, the Buckeye pass attack could sneak up on them.
Offensive Line: The success of the offensive line will be a big issue in this game for Ohio State. Miami's OL has proven to be one of the best in America despite losing stars to the NFL. They are led by Rimington Award winner Brett Romberg at center, who is one of the best in college ball at any spot on the line. Vernon Carey and Carlos Joseph are solid at tackle, and Sherko Haji-Rasouli and Chris Myers are tough at guard as well. This group is a big reason why Miami's offense is as successful as it has been.
Ohio State's offensive line has been up and down this year and faces a huge challenge as they will go up against a Miami front that is as fast and quick as anything they've seen. They have gone up against some real good defensive lines this year in Washington State, Penn State and Michigan, but this one might be the toughest matchup. If the OSU OL has a good night, it will go a long way in the success of the offense. If they struggle to keep Miami out of the backfield, offensive struggles could very well follow.
Defensive Line: As previously stated, the defensive line of the Hurricanes is as fast and athletic as they come. Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, Vince Wilfork, Matt Walters & co. will be tough for Ohio State's offensive line to contain. McDougle is one of the top pass rushers in the nation, and he and Joseph will be high NFL picks.
The OSU defensive line needs to perform well in this game. Putting pressure on Ken Dorsey would be a big step in helping to stop the Miami offense. The Buckeye defensive line has the ability to do it as they are more athletic than some seem to be giving them credit for. It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but a great game is needed from this unit.
Linebackers: We are all tired of hearing about speed, but there's more of it to be found here for Miami. D.J. Williams is very fast and will be all over the field. Jonathan Vilma isn't quite as fast but is one of the top playmakers. Roger McIntosh has emerged as a fine player on the inside.
Ohio State's LBs have had a fine year, and they'll be playing a key role in this one. Matt Wilhelm will have to have another All-American performance, and they will have their hands full in covering Kellen Winslow. Cie Grant's speed will be an asset.
Defensive Backs: One uncertainty coming into the season for Miami was the defensive back situation. They had lost big names such as Phillip Buchannon, Mike Rumph and Ed Reed to the NFL. All they did was replace them with a unit that helped the Hurricanes to the #1 pass defense ranking in America. Sean Taylor is a star at safety, and Antrel Rolle is looking like the next great Miami CB.
Needless to say, OSU's DBs will be challenged in this game. If they have shown a weakness this year, it has been in pass coverage, and they'll have to be at their best Friday night.
Special Teams: Let's not be too quick to give OSU a huge edge in special teams. An edge is there as you won't find a kicker/punter combo who were better in 2003 than Mike Nugent and Andy Groom, but the Miami combo of Sievers and Capshaw is solid as well. Miami also brings plenty of athletes on special teams, and Roscoe Parrish is electric as a return man. Special teams will be instrumental in this game; a mistake on special teams could be a turning point.
So what must OSU do to win? Play great, for one. They have to put together their best performance of the year in every facet. Mistakes have to be few if any, and they have to be the team making the big plays. Pressure must be applied to Ken Dorsey, and the OSU DBs will have to tighten up on the pass. The OSU offensive line will have to play their best game in order to contain Miami's front, and Craig Krenzel is going to need to have success through the air. The Buckeyes will need to keep Willis McGahee in check and win the turnover battle.
It's a lot to ask, but it's not impossible. This Buckeye team has been proving people wrong all year, and now they have the ultimate chance to do it. They're going to find out if they can stand up to Miami's best shot. This is it; there's no next year this week. The Buckeyes have the chance in their hand. Can they make history? We don't need to remind you to tune in to find out.