Buckeyes make the adjustments needed to win in the clutchPosted: Thursday January 02, 2003 12:52 PM
Updated: Thursday January 02, 2003 5:21 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
PHOENIX -- The best football teams, on any level, know how to fix things on the fly. When the offense is sputtering and the defense is looking ragged, the best football teams do what they have to do to get control of a game.
Rank Ohio State with them. The Buckeyes are not always operating at peak performance -- which is a nice way of saying they've played too many close games this season against inferior competition.
But with a tweak here and there and a grinding style of offense that plays well in the second half, the Buckeyes have steamrolled to a 13-0 record and into the national championship game Friday night at the Fiesta Bowl.
"They do a great job at halftime adjustments and shutting people down in the second half," said Rob Chudzinski, the offensive coordinator at Miami. "They have a tough mentality so they're going to go think, 'Hey, we'll get in the game in the second half.' [They have the mentality that] they're going to win the game in the second half."
It's a useful way of thinking for the Buckeyes, especially considering some of their first halves this season.
Six times this season, Ohio State has either been tied or trailing at the half. The Buckeyes were behind to the likes of Cincinnati and Wisconsin. The score was tied at 3-3 at halftime of the Purdue game.
"It's almost like a tradition for us this season," Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent said, "to be behind."
But Ohio State made its adjustments in the locker room and outscored its opponents 206-54 after halftime (including 7-0 in an overtime win against Illinois).
Either the Buckeyes figure out what's going on or the other teams are just flat-out breaking down.
"They are doing something right," Miami defensive tackle Matt Walters said. "They are making plays when they need to make plays."
Ohio State's defense, ranked second in the country (12.2 points a game), plays the biggest part in the Buckeyes' ability to come back in the second half. Only two teams, Texas Tech and Illinois, were able to score on Ohio State twice after intermission.
The Buckeyes, too, have given up only one rushing touchdown all year in the second half. They haven't given up any in the fourth quarter.
"They were the best defense I've seen this season, whether on TV, on film, wherever you look," Chudzinski said. "They're well-coached, fundamentally sound, they tackle well, physically they give great effort. Put them all together and they have a great defense."
The Ohio State offense has not been as effective -- the Buckeyes average a tad more than 15 points in the second halves of their games -- but, coupled with that defense, it's been good enough.
The Buckeyes' offense could get a second-half break, too, because it will be going against a Miami defense that, at times, will give up some points and yardage. The Hurricanes have allowed only 98 second-half points in their 12 wins, and they've pitched four second-half shutouts.
But in their last game, against Virginia Tech, the Hokies scored 24 second-half points. That, alone, has given some Buckeyes hope that they can score on the Hurricanes.
"They like to play a lot of man-to-man defense with two safeties behind it. If they do that, they really have no one on the quarterback," says Ohio State QB Craig Krenzel. "That's where a lot of other team stepups have come into play."
Says Michael Jenkins, the Buckeyes' leading receiver: "Going against a lot of man-to-man coverage, you have to get open. We will be able to do that against these guys. It will be exciting to see."
If the Buckeyes can get open and score some, and if their defense can keep Miami's offense under its 42-point average, the Fiesta Bowl could turn out to be a close game in the second half.
That's exactly where Ohio State is the most dangerous.