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Published: Friday, 1/3/2003

Jenkins could be the key to Bucks pulling an upset

TEMPE, Ariz. - Miami has everything - speed, size, strength and confidence - everything to justify being an 111/2-point favorite over Ohio State in tonight's Fiesta Bowl.

If you want to understand why the Hurricanes are prohibitive favorites, examine their 34-game winning streak. By now we should know there's no sense doubting the Hurricanes.

Now I will admit, tonight's national championship game at Sun Devil Stadium produces at least two dozen different story lines. Some of them are positive from a Buckeye point of view.

Two years ago, Oklahoma entered its national championship matchup against Florida State in the Orange Bowl as a decisive underdog. Yet the Sooners pulled off the unfathomable upset, manufactured by a fantastic defensive performance.

“I think [being an underdog] plays into our hands,” Ohio State senior linebacker Matt Wilhelm said. “Oklahoma had a very aggressive style of defense, which is something we hang our hat on. We feel like we're going to give Miami some problems.

“We've played some good quarterbacks and been able to get in their minds and confuse them with blitzes and zone and man coverage. Kliff Kingsbury [Texas Tech] and Jason Gesser [Washington State], we had a lot of success early with that.

“We went back and watched that film. We're looking to confuse [Miami quarterback] Ken Dorsey out there.”

Everybody thinks they know what the Buckeyes must do to beat the Hurricanes. Stop Miami's 41.9-point per game attack.

I've tried to figure out all week how Ohio State will hold Miami to fewer than three touchdowns but I don't see it happening, short of the Buckeyes slashing the tires on the Hurricanes' team bus.

The Hurricanes don't have an offensive weakness. You don't need a slide rule to know they have a perfect balance between the run and pass.

Take the ball out of quarterback Dorsey's hands, turn wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Kellen Winslow II into decoys, and 4.2 40 tailback Willis McGahee will sprint to daylight against the best run defense.

No, the best chance for the Buckeyes to pull off the upset will depend on their ability to control the football and time of possession. And I don't mean handing the ball to freshman Maurice Clarett until he drops.

OSU coach Jim Tressel can't be afraid to allow quarterback Craig Krenzel to take some shots downfield. The Buckeyes can seize the moment by driving the Hurricanes back on their heels.

Get the ball to 6-5 split end Michael Jenkins, who has caught at least one pass in each of the Buckeyes' 13 games this season and in 25 consecutive games.

Jenkins, a junior, has more catches than Miami's Johnson (57-48) and only seven fewer receiving yards (1,038-1,031). He said a big game against Miami could sway his decision to enter the NFL draft after this season.

“In a game like this, you know you get a chance to be looked at a little more,” Jenkins said. “But that's a decision I'll make after the game, whether I'll leave or stay.

“Everybody on our team is relaxed. We know all the pressure's on Miami.

“They know if they don't blow us out, what people are going to say about them. There's no pressure on us.”

John Harris is The Blade's sports columnist. Contact him by e-mail at jharris@theblade.com



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