The 2003 Fiesta Bowl seems so long ago. When I learned that Ohio State and Miami had scheduled a home-and-home with each other for the 2010-11 seasons after their encounter in the 1999 Kickoff Classic, it seemed so far in the distance that it would be hard to envision what the two programs would be like. Now on the return leg of the home-and-home, both programs bear only partial resemblances to their former selves. This is mostly the case for Miami, which saw a marked decline in program quality from the soaring heights of the early 2000s. Larry Coker, who won a national title in his first year as head coach, resigned as a punch line. He was replaced by Randy Shannon, who was eventually sacked for poor performance as well. Meanwhile, the luster of the program went south. The Florida Gators assumed supremacy in the state, the Hurricanes demolished their dilapidated Orange Bowl in favor of an atmosphere-poor NFL stadium on the other side of town, and now 9 wins seems like an achievement. Enter Al Golden from Temple, who hopes to right the ship before the NCAA sinks it.
Meanwhile, Ohio State deals with the sudden departure of Jim Tressel from the program he guided for ten years. In addition, it has its own NCAA problems for which the program is optimistic that closure is around the corner. Over eight years removed from that wonderful night in Tempe, Arizona, the Buckeyes and Hurricanes meet for the final time for the foreseeable future. The two teams that contested arguably the best national championship encounters in bowl game history would need to play for all of the Tostitos again, since the B1G TEN and ACC share no bowl affiliations. The Hurricanes are previewed below.
Al Golden brought in Jedd Fisch to guide the offense and coach the quarterbacks. Fisch is a West Coast guy, who was with Pete Carroll’s Seahawks in 2010 and, weirdly, with Tim Brewster’s Minnesota Gophers for a cup of coffee the year before that. He will coach Jacory Harris, who returns from suspension to lead the Hurricanes on the field. The senior Jacory Harris (#12) is a friend of the program, his four interceptions against the Buckeyes in 2010 giving Ohio State plenty of breathing room for a fairly easy victory. Of course, we’re not the only college football program that thinks of Harris as a turnover factory. His 3 interception performance against Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl last year comes to mind, as well as a lawlful 7/13, 0 TD 1 INT performance in a loss to Virginia. Also known for his penchant to acquire sacks, a segment of Miami’s fanbase (about 3 of the 14 fans) prefer to see sophomore Stephen Morris (#17) instead. As it stands, Harris is who the Silver Bullets will see again.
The pride of Miami’s offense is its front five. Joel Figueroa (#61), Harland Gunn (#66), Tyler Horn (#63), Brandon Linder (#65), and Brandon Washington (#72) constitute the best offensive line Ohio State’s defense will see, presumably until they host the Wisconsin Badgers. There’s a great combination of size and agility that helps an already stellar athlete at tailback, Lamar Miller (#6), get yards on the ground. Honestly, I thought the offensive line and Lamar Miller were the only superlatives to be discerned from the Week 1 loss to the Maryland Terrapins and whatever God-awful uniforms they were wearing. All five offensive linemen measure at the 300+ mark, including 305lb Tyler Horn and 310lb Brandon Linder. Figueroa, Gunn and Horn are all seniors. Ohio State will go heavy against the Hurricanes, but should miss the services of Nathan Williams regardless.
I don’t have a lot to add about the receiving options for the Hurricanes. Leonard Hankerson was the guy for the Hurricanes last year. This year, that should be Travis Benjamin (#3). Benjamin, a senior, had to sit Week 1 at Maryland in connection with the Shapiro story, but will be back for the game against the Buckeyes. He had 743 yards last season as a junior, including 96 yards against Pitt and 127 against Maryland. He will be joined by Allen Hurns (#1), whose 4 catches for 69 yards led the team in Week 1. Both Hurns and LaRon Byrd (#2) will give Jacory Harris some taller targets, measuring at 6’3 and 6’4 respectively. The tight end is John Calhoun (#43), who is a bit of an unknown for this team. He is a converted fullback who redshirted last year. At 6’3, 250lbs, he seems like more an H-back than a normal tight end like Reid Fragel Rock.
Ohio State will see an entirely new front four on the defensive line than it saw last year in Columbus. Both Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes graduated. The returners — Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon — are suspended in connection with the Shapiro story. Here are their replacements. Anthony Chickillo (#47) is U royalty, a third generation Hurricane. I believe that’s a program first for Miami. Chickillo’s grandfather is in the athletic department’s hall of fame and his father played in the NFL as well. That’s all fine and dandy for Chickillo, who should have a great career in Coral Gables. As it stands, Chickillo is a true freshman and a little undersized at 248lbs. Marcus Robinson (#56), a senior, should see playing time at his position as well. The other defensive end, Andrew Smith (#48), measures at only 250lbs. He is replacing Vernon. At 305lbs and 360lbs respectively, Micanor Regis (#54) and Darius Smith (#98) are huge space eaters inside and should keep Ohio State’s center-guard combo busy all night.
Sean Spence (#31) is back for the Hurricanes after sitting out his suspension as part of the Shapiro story. A senior, Spence was part of the 2008 Miami recruiting class that included about half the kids from Northwestern High School in Miami. He was also last year’s team MVP and a second-team conference performer. Opposite Spence at weakside is senior Ramon Buchanan (#45), who started 10 games in his first year beyond reserve duties. Colin McCarthy is gone at middle linebacker. Replacing him is James Gaines (#59), a sophomore with some range.
Miami might be hardest hit at secondary. DeMarcus Van Dyke is in the NFL and Ray Ray Armstrong is suspended four games for his connection to the Shapiro story. Replacing Armstrong is Jo Jo Nicolas (#29), who is at least keeping the double first name convention alive and well at the strong safety position. Nicolas did not start against the Buckeyes, but did start 10 games last year. At 6’1, 200lbs, he lacks Armstrong’s measurables and strength in run support. Vaughn Telemaque (#7) does return at the free safety position, however. Replacing Van Dyke at cornerback opposite the ballhawk of the group — Brandon McGee (#21) — is Mike Williams (#41). Williams, if I recall correctly, was Maryland’s super best friend in Week 1. Indeed, the whole secondary was. Maryland’s wide receivers liberally burned Miami’s secondary on straight go routes. There wasn’t even a numbers disadvantage in the secondary for the Hurricanes (like a 4 verts v. Cover 3); their corners simply got beat and the safeties were slow in support. The difficulty in watching that is knowing that’s just not us as a football team. We’re not expecting Joe Bauserman to fling it down the field for Verlon Reed, but alas, I’m curious to see what we can do.
Miami wins if… we screw ourselves on special teams, again. Here are my base expectations regarding the Miami offense v. the Ohio State defense. I think we will be frustrated through several stretches in our inability to win first down. I expect Miami’s offensive line to create some running lanes for Lamar Miller. That, itself, will take some pressure off Jacory Harris. But, I expect Miami to struggle to put together consistent drives that result in touchdowns. Therefore, Miami could really turn the screws into Ohio State if we suck on special teams like we did last year. Those two return touchdowns last year were the only scores separating a somewhat comfortable win from a total blowout. On the return leg, kick and punt returns — as well as Drew Basil’s current 0fer on field goals — could be the difference in compensating a so-so Miami offense and giving the Hurricanes the win.
Ohio State wins if… either Jordan Hall or Carlos Hyde has 100 yards rushing or combine for 140 yards. If we had Oklahoma’s offense, I would confidently project hanging 50+ points on the Hurricanes meek secondary. We do not have that luxury. To that end, Ohio State’s key position battle is Mewhort-Brewster-Hall vs. Regis and Smith, Miami’s two defensive tackles. Joe Bauserman does not strictly “win” games in that manner. He needs help in a running game that looked unimpressive against the Toledo Rockets. We could definitely improve on that outing by imposing our well on Miami’s interior defensive line, creating running lanes on our favorite rushing packages for Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde. This would help ease Bauserman into the game, make decisions simpler for him, and best put him in a position to win. Importantly, though, our offensive identity is running the ball. If we can’t do that, I don’t envision many avenues to winning this game when our other limitations are considered.