Miami and Ohio State on Jan. 3, 2003 provided one of the most exciting and talked-about games in recent college football history. Ohio State's double-overtime victory in the Fiesta Bowl secured a national title and marked the beginning of a surge under The Vest (Jim Tressel). It also signaled the end of Miami's amazing run of success. The teams reunite Saturday in Columbus (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET), as Ohio State continues its push for the national title and Miami aims for another signature win to prove that yes, The U is back.
Bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich break down the matchup in Columbus.
Adam Rittenberg: HD, always a pleasure. Tough first weekend for the so-close league, I mean the ACC. Both Ohio State and Miami looked impressive against weak competition Thursday night. We've got to start this off with the two quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor and Jacory Harris. Both are Heisman Trophy candidates in my mind, and they're friends off the field who text each other from time to time. What are the big keys for Harris against an always stout Ohio State defense?
Heather Dinich: Ahh, Ritt, the pleasure is all yours. First, he has to get the protection he needs -- something he hasn't always had, but that appeared to improve in the season opener against Florida A&M. Second, Harris has to continue to play mistake-free like he did in the first half last week. Turnovers were a big issue for him last year -- 17 interceptions -- and Cameron Heyward and the rest of the Buckeyes' D are more than capable of getting him flustered. He’s got to stay on his feet and make smart decisions. What about Pryor? Miami's rushing defense is coming off its best performance in three years, with eight sacks against FAMU. Is Ohio State’s front ready to hold off the Canes and make Pryor look worthy of the Heisman Hype?
AR: Pryor looked much more comfortable with the offense in the opener, but he faced virtually no pressure from Marshall and could sit back and wait for wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey to get open. That should change against the Canes, and it'll be interesting to see how often Pryor takes off and runs -- his old method for dealing with pressure -- or stands in the pocket and makes a tough throw. Ohio State's offensive line finally seems to be coming together after several years of underachieving. It's a group filled with blue-chip recruits that boasts good experience now, especially at the guard spots with Justin Boren and Bryant Browning. A big key will be whether left tackle Mike Adams can protect Pryor's blind side.
Speaking of highly recruited offensive linemen and Ohio State, how is our pal Seantrel Henderson doing? Let's just say Buckeye Nation is waiting. Moreover, how do you see Miami's O-line matching up with Heyward, John Simon and Ohio State's front four?
HD: Miami’s pass protection was pretty good against FAMU, giving up just one sack, and Mount Henderson got some snaps in which he swallowed up some smaller, less athletic players. He's still got a learning curve, though, and the truth is it's too hard to judge that group until it lines up against the Buckeyes. Some might have made too much of the power versus speed plotline in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin, but I’m wondering if that won’t be a factor with Ohio State’s defensive front in putting the pressure on Harris. The Buckeyes' run defense is solid, but can they stop this deep backfield with or without Graig Cooper?
AR: Heather, I'm glad you brought up the Champs Sports Bowl. I know this is a different and supposedly better Miami team, but I have a hard time forgetting how Wisconsin outclassed the Canes in that game, and would have won by more points if not for a Garrett Graham fumble near the goal line. If Wisconsin's defense makes Harris look like that, I can't imagine what Ohio State's will do to him. You also bring up a good point about Cooper, who missed most of the Wisconsin game. He's a tremendous athlete and could be a big factor on Saturday if he plays. Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is another guy who looks better and better as time goes on and had a great performance in the opener.
OK, you're on the spot. What happens in this one?
HD: Well, one of two things: A.) Miami wins and is an instant surprise contender for the national title, or B.) The Hurricanes lose and ACC fans flip the channel to the Florida State game, clinging to desperation that somebody can represent on the national level. I think Miami is good, but I don’t think they're ready for Ohio State -- especially not in the Shoe. I'm still in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode with these guys when it comes to national relevance. Can they win the ACC? No doubt. But the Canes need to win the Coastal before they're in the same realm as the Buckeyes. Do you see any upset in the making?
AR: Miami certainly has the talent to win this game. The Canes must win the turnover battle, force Pryor into some bad decisions and hold the edge on special teams, which surprisingly might be Ohio State's biggest weakness this year. While I forecast a great game, I don't see the upset. Ohio State is simply too strong up front on both sides of the ball and wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State got over its big-game hump in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, and the Buckeyes aren't a slow Big Ten team, as they're often portrayed. The Buckeyes win this one by a touchdown.