Miami Hurricanes Football: Previewing the Matchup vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
The University of Miami Hurricanes are back in action Saturday as they face the No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes in a battle of programs facing heavy NCAA scrutiny.
The Hurricanes and Buckeyes have both been hit hard for their respective scandals that have rocked the schools to the core and placed doubts on their future competitive chances as both institutions are waiting to see how hard the NCAA is going to hit them.
This game was billed as a highly anticipated matchup of two former national championship foes that are in the midst of rebuilding, until Terrelle Pryor left for the NFL, Jim Tressel was forced out and 72 former and current Miami players were fingered by Nevin Shapiro for accepting improper benefits.
The current versions of these teams are light years away from the colossal clash in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
In that game, the No. 2 Buckeyes got the best of the top-ranked Hurricanes by a score of 31-24, mostly in part to a still-controversial pass interference call that nullified a Buckeye incomplete pass on fourth down in the end zone and enabled the Bucks to claim their first national championship, while denying Miami back-to-back championships and the school's sixth overall.
This meeting has since been billed the "Ineligibowl" due to all of the suspensions that have rocked both sides.
Here are five previews that will be key on Saturday:
1. Jacory Harris vs. Buckeyes Secondary
This is a set of highlights that Miami fans will probably want to forget when it comes to their starting quarterback.
Jacory Harris lost his duel with Terrelle Pryor last season as he made a number of mistakes that ultimately cost the Hurricanes the game and a chance to make a huge statement by beating the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
Harris was mostly to blame for the Hurricanes' setback in Columbus last season as he threw four interceptions, three of which could've been avoided had the 'Canes receivers actually made an effort to take them from defenders.
Ohio State's secondary virtually neutralized all deep passing routes in last season's contest and will look to force Harris to beat them in the short and underneath passing game.
In order to put the ghosts of last season behind him, Harris must play disciplined football and make better decisions in order to cut down on the game-changing mistakes he has gotten a reputation for making.
He will have senior receiving threat Travis Benjamin back from a one-game suspension and he will look to have a huge impact against the Buckeyes' suddenly pedestrian defense.
2. Mike James, Lamar Miller vs. Buckeyes Defense
The key for the Hurricanes in this game will be to lean on their two stud running backs, Mike James and Lamar Miller.
A strong showing on the ground will help the Hurricanes control the clock and keep their defense fresh to possibly slam the door shut on the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes defense will be without defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, as he was one of the "Buckeye Five" suspended by the NCAA for his role in the tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal that has hung a dark cloud over the program.
Miller and James will need consistent play from the offensive line, as the Buckeyes defensive line is still not as easy to push around as Maryland's.
The key for Ohio State will be to limit these two from running wild, because if Miller gets more than 100 yards on the ground, it usually means a win for the Hurricanes and it will take a whole team effort to stop the Hurricanes' dynamic duo.
3. Joe Bauserman vs. Hurricanes Defense
The new man in charge of the Buckeyes offense, Joe Bauserman has some pretty big shoes to fill and he seems like he is ready for the challenge.
He will get just that from the Hurricanes defense. Miami gets Sean Spence, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo back, and it will look to rattle the young quarterback early and often.
In two victories over Toledo and Akron, Bauserman has managed the offense well and has played relatively mistake-free football.
Bauserman will be without the team's top three offensive pieces from last season in running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey and offensive lineman Mike Adams, so it will be a challenge to keep the Hurricanes' often-blitzing defense at bay.
The key for Miami's defense will be to generate a relentless pass rush and to throw different kinds of looks at the young quarterback to keep him guessing and to force him into mistakes.
If Miami can rattle Bauserman into making mistakes, it should be able to set the tone and control the Buckeyes' offensive attack.
4. Al Golden vs. Luke Fickell
Two new coaches are at the helm of these teams. Al Golden took over in Miami after Randy Shannon was fired, and Luke Fickell took over for the legendary-now-disgraced Jim Tressel.
Each man has taken the job, and in Golden's case he was unaware of the scandal that was brewing in Miami, and Fickell took over in the light of Tressel's forced resignation when the tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal rocked the university.
It will be a battle of wits between two men in charge of programs with uncertain futures, as the schools await their respective fates with the NCAA.
Each man will try to lead his team to a victory, but Golden needs the win to prove his Hurricanes can move forward, even with all the uncertainty surrounding the program, and it will provide a measure of revenge for the heartbreaking loss in 2003.
For Fickell, every game this season will be an audition to keep his job and prove he is the long-term answer at head coach.
5. The Winner Is...
A prediction is just that. A prediction. With all of the matchups and backstory surrounding this game, it will be one of the better games of the season, no matter that both schools are currently in the NCAA doghouse.
If Jacory Harris plays mistake-free football and the Hurricanes lean on the running of Lamar Miller, the Hurricanes will even their record at 1-1 and most likely make the top 25.
If these things happen, the 'Canes will dispatch the Buckeyes by a score of 33-24.
If Harris plays like he has in the past, making game-changing mistakes, and if the defense doesn't gel together and stop the Buckeyes offense, the game will again be won by the boys of Columbus.
If this scenario plays out, the Buckeyes will win another nail-biter in Coral Gables by a score of 27-24.