2002 College Bowls


Second-half stuffers

Buckeyes make the adjustments needed to win in the clutch

Posted: Thursday January 02, 2003 12:52 PM
Updated: Thursday January 02, 2003 5:21 PM
  Michael Doss S Mike Doss will be a key element in Ohio State's ability to stop Willis McGahee. AP

By John Donovan,

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.

Thursday, Jan. 2, 2003 -- 1 day to kickoff
"We still have some guys, myself included, that are kind of stuck in the '80s and wish we could have played back then."
-- Miami center Brett Romberg, lamenting the fact that he didn't play for the "bad boy" Hurricanes of the 1980s.
7 -- Touchdowns scored on its opening drive of the second half by Miami this season (12 games).
It's officially time for everyone in town for the Fiesta Bowl -- the players, the coaches, the support staffs, the vendors, the fans, the media, everyone -- to cry uncle. The players and coaches are clearly tired of the ceaseless pre-game hoops they've been asked to jump through. The practices are, for the most part, done. Both sides have been working on their game plans for more than a month now. In fact, they're having to pare down because they put too much in there with all the time to spare. The two sides are finished with their obligations to the media, too, mostly. What's left? A long, long day-plus before kickoff. Sigh.
If Ohio State wins this thing Friday night, what happens to the city of Columbus, Ohio?
Offensive lines

Comedian center Brett Romberg, the Rimington Award winner, anchors a swift line that helped the 'Canes score more points than any Miami team ever. Romberg, along with tackles Carlos Joseph and Vernon Carey and guards Sherko Haji-Rasouli and Chris Myers have started every game this season and allowed only 11 sacks.

The Buckeyes' line has not been as steady as Miami's, but it's plenty big (every starter over 300 pounds). The constants are center Alex Stepanovich (who can play guard) and guard Bryce Bishop. They've had some injuries, and their pass protection is suspect (31 sacks). But they can get TB Maurice Clarett free.
Defensive lines

Four seniors anchor a line that sacks at will. Ends Jerome McDougle (13 sacks) and Jamaal Greene (8 ) are fast, while tackles William Joseph (15 sacks) and Matt Walters (6 ) do the dirty work inside. The 'Canes have the best pass defense in the nation, largely because of the pressure these guys exert. 'Backer D.J. Williams (13 sacks) comes, too.

Not as fast, but every bit as physical, these guys look to end Darrion Scott (nine sacks) for leadership. The Buckeyes allowed only four running TDs all year, none in the last five games and only 78.7 yards a game on the ground. Getting past Scott, fellow end Will Smith (also a relentless rusher), tackles Tim Anderson and Kenny Peterson is a chore.

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.

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