TEMPE, Ariz. - Call it tainted, and I'll slap you in the mouth.
The Ohio State Buckeyes won their first national championship since 1968 because they imposed their will and worked defensive magic on an opponent that hadn't lost a game in 21/2 seasons.
Ohio State's implausible 31-24 double-overtime victory over top-ranked, unbeaten and untied Miami in the Fiesta Bowl will surely rank among the greatest upsets in college football, if for no other reason because the Buckeyes beat an opponent that was supposedly unbeatable.
A controversial pass interference penalty against Miami coming well after an incomplete fourth-down pass sustained a critical Ohio State scoring drive in overtime. It led to quarterback Craig Krenzel's one-yard touchdown run that tied the score 24-24.
“I thought there was interference, but I did not see a flag, so at first I thought, `What a shame,'” said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. “I think it was the right call. Fortunately, we capitalized on it.”
“Obviously on fourth down and long, that was a huge, huge play in the game,” said coach Larry Coker, who lost his first game at Miami after a 24-0 start. “You hate for an official to have to make that call.”
What a game!
What a game! What a game! What a game!
How do you define excitement and all the drama you can handle? You can't. This game defied explanation.
Somehow, someway, the Buckeyes made it happen. They dug down and won a game everyone said they were supposed to lose.
“Our guys know what they're capable of,” Tressel said. “They know when they're together what they can accomplish.”
Still, it wasn't easy for the 14-0 Buckeyes, who ended Miami's 34-game winning streak. The Buckeyes were 111/2 -point underdogs against a team that hadn't lost since early in the 2000 season.
Krenzel, the Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP, carried OSU despite completing only seven of 21 passes for 122 yards with two interceptions. He rushed 19 times for a game-high 81 yards and two touchdowns.
Freshman Maurice Clarett carried the ball 23 times for 47 yards.
Bottom line: Ohio State's offense struggled. The Buckeyes won because they played a mean defensive game.
The Buckeyes never backed down. Their aggressiveness took its toll on Miami.
Miami running back Willis McGahee left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. Quarterback Ken Dorsey left for a couple of plays after being drilled in the second overtime.
It ended, suddenly, when Dorsey's fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
For 12-1 Miami, there's no consolation, not when victory was so close and seemingly imminent.
OSU's defense carried so heavy a burden into last night's contest that some predicted the Buckeyes would topple from the weight.
The truth, of course, was stranger than fiction.
In the first half, OSU's defense carried the Buckeyes' offense. Ohio State scored 14 points resulting directly from a pair of second-quarter turnovers.
OSU's defenders laid wood to Miami's vaunted playmakers. Midway through the first quarter, safety Michael Doss sent a message when he drove McGahee to the turf after a one-yard gain.
The Buckeyes tormented McGahee, who rushed for only 25 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per carry in the first half. McGahee left the game in the fourth quarter after a vicious tackle by safety Will Allen.
The Buckeyes also got inside the head of Dorsey, rattling him with blitzes and multiple coverages, as linebacker Wilhelm predicted they would. Dorsey turned the ball over three times in the first half.
The fact that Miami was forced to play catch-up said everything about the Buckeyes' defensive dominance.
It said everything about defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio formulating a perfect game plan.
Moreover, Ohio State took away Miami's pet plays and made the Hurricanes improvise.
For the first time in 21/2 seasons, Miami faced an opponent that refused to roll over and play dead.