STOPPING Clinton Portis
Miami has a Heisman-quality QB in Ken Dorsey, an impenetrable line, fleet receivers and a killer tight end. But No.1 on Nebraska’s must-stop list is RB Clinton Portis. “He’s gotten better and better this season,” says Huskers D-coordinator Craig Bohl. “Great strength, very durable, excellent change of direction and a good burst. That combination, along with that line, poses a major problem.”
It poses the problem, what with the memory of the Huskers’ front-seven meltdown against Colorado. Now comes Portis, and a Hurricane offensive line that averages 308 pounds. “Our premise is to stop the run, make them throw it and make them throw it in a hurry,” Bohl says.
So what’s Bohl to do? Basically, nothing. Marking sure-handed TE Jeremy Shockey and FB Najeh Davenport makes putting a spy on Portis inadvisable. And with Miami’s vertical passing game, Nebraska can’t afford to load the box. Bohl believes if they get back to run-defense basics -- low pads, positioning, technique -- Nebraska can take care of Portis without neglecting Miami’s other weapons. Bohl is confident that his squad -- anchored in the middle by DT Jeremy Slechta, NT Jon Clanton and LB Jamie Burrow, the team’s leading tackler -- will resemble a Huskers D ranked 13th nationally in rushing defense before the CU game, not the unit ranked 22nd after it. “We can play good run defense,” Bohl said. “We just drifted away from run responsibilities.”
Drift away again and Portis could make it CU -- The Sequel. -- Gene Wojciechowski
STOPPING Chris Brown
What is the worst-kept secret in college football? 98G. Texas did a slightly better job than Nebraska against Colorado’s staple play, because the Longhorns have more agile defensive linemen who could slip blocks. Unfortunately for the Ducks, other than powerhouse senior DT Zack Freiter, Oregon’s linemen are young and small.
But expect Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti to copy one UT trick -- slanting his front four to clog lanes. They’ll also take advantage of their team speed by selling out more with run-blitzes from the strong safety and linebackers. (LB Wesly Mallard is also a sprinter on the Ducks’ track team.) Trouble is, Mallard weighs in at just 212 pounds and another linebacker, gritty Kevin Mitchell, measures barely 5'10" and 210.
The Ducks faced a similar attack against Wisconsin, another zone-based running team, back on Sept. 1. Oregon won 31-28, but still surrendered 157 yards rushing. And as Buffs coaches will remind you, Wisconsin didn’t have a pulling guard like 6'4", 320-pound Andre Gurode paving the way. The keys for Oregon? Attack Gurode before he gets those enormous shoulders turned upfield and don’t overpursue like Nebraska’s safeties did.
“Aliotti’s rep is that he’s a whiz at attacking tendencies,” says ESPN college football analyst Rod Gilmore. “He knows exactly when Colorado likes to run 98G, and he’ll call his run blitzes accordingly.”
Bring it on, says the Buffs. “We’re a black and white team,” says OT Victor Rogers. “We run what we run, and it’s up to the defense to stop it. They know what they’re gonna see. We’ve got no gimmicks.”
This article appears in the January 7 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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