Up in smoke
Miami's 34-game streak ends in bad-luck Fiesta BowlPosted: Saturday January 04, 2003 4:17 AM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- To win 34 games in a row requires an abundance of talent and a bevy of good coaching, but catching some breaks here and there certainly helps.
Friday night, in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, 34 games of good karma went up in smoke for the Miami Hurricanes.
A team that had avoided major injuries most of the past three seasons lost its star running back, Willis McGahee, for the fourth quarter and overtime, and saw its venerable quarterback, Ken Dorsey, get banged up on the last drive of the game.
A team that had avoided turnovers coughed it up five times, one of them on the same play that it had produced one of its own.
A team that had won on such freaky plays as Wide Rights and Wide Lefts and dropped two-point conversions fell victim to a controversial call that cost them the win.
“Just bad breaks,” said running back Jarrett Payton, limited to 17 yards on eight carries after replacing McGahee. “Sometimes you just feel like you beat yourself.”
Ohio State would probably beg to differ.
The Buckeyes came out and did exactly what they intended. They shut down Miami’s running game (65 yards), they sacked Dorsey half as many times (four) as he’d been all season, they took care of the ball on offense and burned the 'Canes time and again on runs by quarterback Craig Krenzel.
“Our keys to the game,” said OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio, “were to end up plus-two in turnover margin, which we did [finishing plus-three], end up stopping the run on a consistent basis, which we did, sack the quarterback, which I thought we did, and eliminate big plays, which, for the most part, we did.”
Of all those, though, the turnovers made the biggest difference.
The first came early in the second quarter, with Miami leading 7-0 and seemingly passing at will on the Buckeyes’ secondary. Dorsey had completed eight of his first 10 throws for 119 yards and a touchdown, but on third and four at the 'Canes’ own 29, he overthrew Roscoe Parrish, who appeared to stop short of where Dorsey anticipated, and into the hands of cornerback Dustin Fox.
The Buckeyes didn’t score any points off that turnover, but an important change in momentum was beginning to take place.
Miami’s next drive again ended with a Dorsey interception, this one more costly. A deflected pass intended for Andre Johnson went instead to Ohio State’s Mike Doss, who returned it 35 yards to the Miami 17. The Buckeyes would cash in on a 1-yard run by Craig Krenzel to tie the game with 2:28 left in the first half.
The very next play, Dorsey coughed it up again, this time fumbling when Kenny Peterson sacked him. Ohio State scored again on a Maurice Clarett 7-yard run to take the lead into halftime.
But the miscue that hurt Miami the most came with 10:33 left in the third quarter. Call this one a double whammy.
One play after Krenzel hooked up with Chris Gamble for a 57-yard pass that put the Buckeyes on the brink of going up two touchdowns, Miami safety Sean Taylor picked off Krenzel in the end zone, seemingly getting the 'Canes out of danger.
But in a questionable move, Taylor ran the ball out, getting to the 28-yard line before a conspicuous defender -- star Buckeyes running back Maurice Clarett -- stuck his hand in and stripped Taylor. Ohio State’s Mike Nugent would end up converting a 44-yard field goal, and it would take Miami until the final play of regulation to make up the 17-7 deficit.
It proved to be the biggest play of the night for Clarett, who ran for a modest 47 yards on 23 carries.
Miami’s own star running back, McGahee, had his roughest night of the season in its biggest game. Accustomed to averaging 6.4 yards per carry, Ohio State’s defense stuffed him for 1 yard or less on six of his first seven carries. Then, right when he was starting to pick up steam, picking up more gains of 5 to 9 yards, he went down with what appeared to be a serious injury when his left knee collided with Buckeye safety Will Allen’s helmet. He had to be assisted off the field by two teammates.
The loss of their star had a noticeable effect on both the 'Canes' approach and their performance. The logical guy to score from the 1 wasn’t there when Miami failed to do just that on the game’s final three plays. Plus, Dorsey got dinged up in the second overtime, leaving the game for a play, and likely still was on the final series.
“Losing McGahee sort of hurt us,” said Coker. “They have a great defensive football team. We didn’t have enough offense to finish it off tonight.”
Coker’s comments came moments after experiencing defeat for the first time as Miami’s head coach, a streak spanning 24 games. Dorsey, who finishes his distinguished career 38-2 as a starter, left the depressingly somber Miami locker room with a towel over his head and broke down in tears as he hugged his sobbing mother.
Neither can possibly appreciate it now, but it’s a wonder it didn’t happen sooner. Even the greatest teams aren’t impervious to misfortune, as the 'Canes learned for the first time in 34 games.
“It’s a funny-shaped ball,” said Miami defensive tackle Matt Walters. “It bounces different ways different times.”