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Inside College Football

Dec. 30, 2002
Dec. 30, 2002

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Dec. 30, 2002

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Inside College Football

The Miami Vise
For Ohio State to stand a chance in the Fiesta Bowl, three key
defenders have to clamp down on the Canes

This is an article from the Dec. 30, 2002 issue Original Layout

Time for a math lesson. Miami's offense averaged nearly 42 points
while extending the sixth-longest winning streak in college
football history to 34 games and putting the Hurricanes in
position to win a second consecutive national title, in the
Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. Their opponent, unbeaten Ohio State,
averaged less than 19 points in its last five games and wasn't
always impressive down the stretch. Conclusion: The Buckeyes are
not going to win a shootout. Their defense is going to have to
find a way to slow down Miami and give the feeble Ohio State
offense a shot at winning the school's first national title since
1968.

This isn't all bad news for the Buckeyes, who have been living
off their defense since the leaves started falling (and freshman
tailback Maurice Clarett got hurt). "Their defense is physical
and disciplined," says Purdue offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
"They do not get themselves out of position, and they do not
allow big plays." Sound defense, however, will not be enough for
the 13-point underdogs to upset Miami. The Hurricanes have two
Heisman finalists (quarterback Ken Dorsey and tailback Willis
McGahee) and at least three other offensive starters who are
likely future first-round NFL draft picks (wideout Andre Johnson,
center Brett Romberg and tight end Kellen Winslow). Miami will be
the fastest and most explosive team Ohio State has seen, and at
least three of Ohio State's best defenders will have to raise
their level of play to halt the Canes.

Matt Wilhelm, middle linebacker. The 6'5", 245-pound senior led
the Buckeyes with 111 tackles. At the vortex of a 4-3 alignment,
he gets most of the inside running plays and cutbacks funneled to
him. For Ohio State to succeed, he must stop McGahee. Easy to
say. Consider the play McGahee made against Pittsburgh on Nov.
21, when Miami trailed the Panthers 1-7 with just over two
minutes left in the first half. On first-and-10 from their 31,
McGahee ran left, found little room, quickly slashed to the
inside, cut abruptly right and ripped into the open field.
Sixty-nine yards later the game was tied and Pitt was deflated.
Miami went on to win 28-21. "We had the play stuffed," says Pitt
defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. "We had people in every gap,
we had every zone covered. A great runner made a great cut, and
our guys just froze. He broke three sets of ankles on one play.
On that kind of play, I think Miami's speed is going to surprise
Ohio State."

Mike Doss, strong safety. A three-time All-America, he is the
Buckeyes' best player, a physical run-stopper who likes to attack
the line of scrimmage but is also effective in zone pass
coverage. "They never let Doss get very far away from the ball,"
says Chaney. To control the Miami run, Ohio State will often have
to outnumber the Hurricanes' blockers, with eight players in the
box and three defensive backs against Miami's favored two-back
set. Doss, a senior, will be the X factor, the player who either
commits to the run or drops into coverage. He must hide his
intentions from Dorsey as long and as convincingly as possible,
because if Dorsey sees Doss moving up, he'll know he's getting
single coverage and exploit it. If he sees Doss sitting back,
he'll give the ball to McGahee.

"You have to make Dorsey read your defense, postsnap," says
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who was an assistant coach at Miami
when Dorsey arrived. "He can still be effective, but it's a lot
harder for him that way."

Chris Gamble, cornerback. A sophomore, he started the season
exclusively at wide receiver but finished it as a 60-minute man
in the mold of Charles Woodson--and as one of the best corners in
the country. Against Miami he'll likely find himself in
man-to-man coverage against Johnson, Roscoe Parrish or Ethenic
Sands, because Ohio State will probably cheat senior free safety
Donnie Nickey to whichever side sophomore corner Dustin Fox is
playing. "Nine of the 11 guys on their defense are probably the
best in the conference at their position," said one Big Ten
offensive coordinator. "Fox is one of the other two. Teams were
able to do some things against him. Ohio State is going to have
to roll their coverage to give him some help. That's going to
leave Gamble on an island. He's good, and he's going to have to
be."

"Look at Miami's wide receivers," says Schiano. "Andre Johnson is
as good as you get. Winslow is just like a wide receiver, and
he's as good as you get. And Dorsey is not only bright but
physically talented, which he doesn't get credit for."

The key for Gamble, and for the combination of Doss, Fox and
Nickey, is to disrupt Miami's flow. "It's all rhythm with Miami,"
says one Big East coach. "Once the receiver plants his foot and
commits to the route, the ball is gone. And they get big chunks.
They don't drive the field--they make big plays."

But here's the killer: It's possible to do everything right
against Dorsey and still lose. On Nov. 30 in Syracuse, Miami was
leading 14-0 early in the second quarter. On second-and-goal
from the Syracuse four, Dorsey took a quick drop. "He looked for
Roscoe Parrish on the fade, but Syracuse had outside leverage on
him, so no sale there," says a coach who has seen the
Miami-Syracuse tape. "Then he looked for Winslow in the middle,
but he was bracketed [covered front and back]. Nothing there. So
he saw Andre Johnson at the back of the end zone to his right. He
was covered, but Dorsey sat on his back foot, fully cocked, then
just gave Johnson a little head shake to the middle. Johnson cut,
and--boom!--touchdown. Dorsey read three receivers, improvised
and completed the ball."

If he does that on Jan. 3 in Tempe, class dismissed.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN Johnson (5) is one of many threats (from top) Gamble, Wilhelm and Doss will face.COLOR PHOTO: RON ALVEY (GAMBLE) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (WILHELM) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: DAVE MARTIN/AP (FRANCHIONE)

Expert Opinion

We asked former Alabama and new Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione
(right)--whose Crimson Tide lost to Oklahoma, Georgia and Auburn,
and beat LSU--for his picks for the January bowls.

Bowl Predicted Score

OUTBACK (JAN. 1) Florida (8-4) 35, Michigan (9-3) 27
Gators have superior team speed and a big-play QB in Rex Grossman

COTTON (JAN. 1) Texas (10-2) 32, LSU (8-4) 14
Tigers will be no match for Longhorns in this home game for Texas

GATOR (JAN. 1) Notre Dame (10-2) 21, N.C. State (10-3) 20
Teams are evenly matched, but Irish have been my pick since I
first pretended to be Joe Theismann in my backyard in rural
Kansas

CAPITAL ONE (JAN. 1) Penn State (9-3) 27, Auburn (8-4) 17
Auburn plays good D, but Larry Johnson's a difference-maker

ROSE (JAN. 1) Oklahoma (11-2) 29, Wash. State (10-2) 20
Emotions will be running high for Cougars and lame-duck coach
Mike Price, but Sooners are just too talented

SUGAR (JAN. 1) Georgia (12-1) 38, Florida State (9-4) 21
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, a former Seminoles assistant, wants
this one badly and will get it because he has better personnel

ORANGE (JAN. 2) Iowa (11-1) 38, USC (10-2) 31
Hawkeyes have had the magic going all season; if not for a play
or two they would be going for an undefeated season

FIESTA (JAN. 3) Ohio State (13-0) 24, Miami (12-0) 21
Ohio State has the right formula for this upset: power running
game, tough defense, knack for playing hard on every down