Stopping a Hurricane
For Ohio State, it all comes down to the fundamentalsPosted: Tuesday December 31, 2002 9:32 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 31, 2002 10:25 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- You can't dawdle if you're putting up 42 points a game. You can't do the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust thing. You can't dink and dunk the opponent down the field.
If you put up 42 points a game, like the top-ranked Miami Hurricanes do, you have to do things quickly. Efficiently. You have to get out there, run off a big play and then do it again.
There is no messing around when you score like Miami does. There's no rest. Not for anybody. Heck, even Miami's defense -- which plays an average of five more minutes a game than the Miami offense -- is sucking wind by the end of a Miami scoring marathon.
"Ah, it's better than them not scoring at all," said Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma. "When they score, we like it."
Miami's offense has been a load to handle for everyone this season. Ken Dorsey. Willis McGahee. Andre Johnson. Everybody talks about the Hurricanes' team speed.
Yet it's not necessarily how fast the players are that is most impressive about the Hurricanes.
Here are some sobering statistics, especially if you happen to like Ohio State, Miami's opponent in Friday night's Fiesta Bowl: More than half of Miami's 67 touchdowns this season (37, to be exact) came on drives that lasted less than two minutes. Eighteen of the TDs came on drives that lasted less than a minute.
And here's the whopper: Average time for a Miami scoring drive? One minute, 58 seconds.
These guys put it up quicker than Allen Iverson.
"It's fun. It's good," said defensive end Jerome McDougle. "It gets the game over fast."
That number -- 1:58 -- has been making the rounds this week at the run-up to the national championship game.
"That's a nice number for you guys," said Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio. "A nice number."
It's also one that Dantonio puts absolutely zero stock in.
There's no way that Dantonio expects the Hurricanes to run roughshod over the Buckeyes -- who gave up only 12.2 points a game this season, second in the nation -- like they have everybody else. And the reason Dantonio thinks that way is simple. Very simple, in fact.
The Buckeyes, he says, know how to tackle.
Many of Miami's opponents, apparently, do not.
"I look at how people play them," Dantonio said. "It's not all them."
Missed tackles have been a big part of many of the plays that have led to Miami's quick scores, according to Dantonio. Mental mistakes, blown assignments and players out of position also have hurt Miami opponents.
Not gonna happen with Ohio State, the Buckeyes insist.
"They're a big-play offense," said Ohio State linebacker Matt Wilhelm. "[But] I've seen where [Miami tailback] Willis McGahee will break two or three tackles, cut back across the field then Ö they just don't make the tackles.
"We," Wilhelm said, "have a pretty sure-tackling team."
At every practice, the Buckeyes run a tackling drill in which they pit a player against another and have them make the tackle "in space." Drilling the fundamentals is supposedly commonplace on every team. Dantonio makes sure it's second nature to his players.
"If itís not," he said without a smile, "we'll take them to the ground."
Dantonio is downright defiant to those who suggest that the Buckeyes could be swallowed up by the quick-striking Miami offense. He says that of more than 900 defensive plays this season, Ohio State allowed only 11 runs (not counting quarterback scrambles) of 15 or more yards. And four of those came in the first half of one game, against Wisconsin.
But Miami is something else. The Hurricanes have had at least 10 plays of 10 or more yards in every game. In its 13 wins this season, Miami has had 201 plays of 10 or more yards. That's roughly 25 percent of its plays.
They all factor into the quick scores and that gaudy 1:58 that brings out the Dantonio sneer.
Will Ohio State be able to slow the Miami offense, limit the big plays and keep the Hurricanes under their 42-point average? Will the Buckeyes, at least, be able to slow them enough?
It's the big mystery of this national championship game. And you can bet that neither side will be messing around when it comes time to answer it.