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Published: Sunday, 1/5/2003

OSU defense chokes Miami, quiets skeptics

TEMPE, Ariz. - You had to know that Ohio State would win the national championship once the Buckeyes made Miami's prodigious offense look like Kent State's or San Jose State's.

From the moment that Ohio State's defense made the Hurricanes appear timid and confused, you had to know that coach Jim Tressel's Buckeyes were capable of pulling off the monumental upset.

You knew the Hurricanes would eventually succumb to the hard-hitting and disciplined Buckeyes. You knew that defensive end Will Smith, linebacker Matt Wilhelm and strong safety Michael Doss would run defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio's game-plan to perfection. Smith, Wilhelm and Doss combined for 27 tackles, 51/2 tackles for losses, one sack and one interception.

The Buckeyes played with the confidence they would shut down the Hurricanes and win. You could feel it. There probably were a lot of people watching, certainly every one of Miami's players, who didn't believe. But the Buckeyes believed in themselves and their system.

“Out there on the field we felt like we could play with anybody in the country,” said Doss.

The Buckeyes made believers out of their fans and their skeptics. Given the significance of the game and opponent, given that Miami hadn't lost in 21/2 seasons, OSU's 31-24 double-overtime victory at Sun Devil Stadium was the most impressive big-game defensive performance I've witnessed since Oklahoma's dismantling of Florida State in the Orange Bowl two years ago.

Ohio State's defense was so good that it's preventing me from writing about the gritty performance of quarterback Craig Krenzel, who led the Buckeyes in rushing, scored a pair of touchdowns and completed the biggest pass of his life - 17 yards to split end Michael Jenkins on fourth-and-14 with OSU trailing 24-17 in overtime.

It's preventing me from rehashing the details of the controversial fourth-down pass-interference call that went against Miami later in the same drive, giving the Buckeyes new life. It's preventing me from debating whether the Buckeyes are the luckiest team in college football.

The Buckeyes entered the Fiesta Bowl with 25 takeaways in 13 games. Everyone kind of overlooked that fact.

The Buckeyes didn't get to 14-0 by accident. They won because they made play after must-play and minimized their turnovers.

Ohio State protected the ball better than Miami. The Buckeyes committed two turnovers. Miami turned it over five times.

You want to say that's an accident? You want to say the Hurricanes gave the game away? Fine. Some people want to question the validity of Ohio State's win because of a questionable official's call at the end of the game. One play didn't determine the outcome.

Good defense is about creating turnovers. When you watch Miami's turnovers; yeah, there were a couple of gimmies. But you know what? Going in and stripping the football and knocking it out, that's not an accident. That's good coaching and good playing. The Buckeyes have been doing it all year long. It's their trademark.

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