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Saturday, January 4
Did I say 20 reasons why Miami would win?

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN The Magazine

COLUMBUS, Ariz. -- I'll make it short and sweet: I was wrong, Ohio State was 31 points right in the football version of Duke-Kentucky.

Let me count the 20 ways I miscalculated. . .

1. Pure talent.
I said Miami had more of it. That still might be true, but the Buckeyes had more of everything else: tenacity, timing and a well-crafted offensive and defensive game plan that took advantage of Miami's few weaknesses. That's why OSU defensive end Will Smith stood near midfield at double overtime's end and yelled, "It's the greatest day in the world!" Miami would disagree, but that's the breaks.

2. Experience.
The Hurricanes had national championship game experience -- lots of it (six appearances since 1990) -- but they hadn't been in an overtime game since Sept. 19, 1998. By the way, they lost that one to Virginia Tech, 27-20. The Buckeyes were in tight games all season. Including Friday evening's victory, OSU has won seven of its 14 games by seven points or less.

"We've been there," said free safety Donnie Nickey. "We didn't panic or anything."

Miami didn't exactly panic. The Hurricanes tied the game on the last play of regulation, took the lead in the first overtime and had first-and-goal at the Ohio State 2 in the second OT. But OSU overcame more obstacles (hello, fourth-and-14 in the first OT!).

3. Andre Johnson vs. Chris Gamble.
Johnson had seven catches, 199 yards and two TDs in the national championship win against Nebraska last season. This time: four catches, 54 yards, zilcho TDs. For a part-time cornerback, Gamble did a suitable-for-framing job against Johnson.

As it turns out Miami had more problems covering WR Gamble than the other way around. Gamble finished with two catches for 69 yards, but it was the pass he couldn't catch that was the play of the game: a belated pass interference called against UM cornerback Glenn Sharpe as he tried to check Gamble on a fourth-and-3 from the UM 5. Someone pressed the pause button on OSU coach Jim Tressel's heart as he watched the ball fall incomplete. He could have sworn he saw contact between Sharpe and Gamble.

And yet, nothing.

"Isn't that a shame," he said to himself.

"Oh, ----!" thought OSU right tackle Shane Olivea.

"Dejection," said quarterback Craig Krenzel afterward.

Miami's players and fans began to celebrate. Then Porter's flag fluttered to the turf.

"They came out on the field all joyful and happy," said Gamble. "That (flag) took all the joy out of it."

"It took forever," said tight end Ben Hartsock of the interference call. "I couldn't believe how long it took."

"You get a lump in your throat," Olivea said. "Then, 'OK, we got another chance.'"

Three plays later, Krenzel scored from a yard out.

4. History.
Nebraska and Oklahoma can rest easy. No team has won back-to-backs since the Cornhuskers did it in 1994-95. And OU's 47-game win streak is safe as a kitten.

Coffee's for closers, and the Hurricanes couldn't close the deal.

5. Motivation.
"If we finish this job, there will be books written about us," UM center Brett Romberg said earlier in the week.

Will a pamphlet do?

The Hurricanes certainly had the motivation, but so did Ohio State.

Insert obligatory OSU we-shocked-the-world, nobody-believed-in-us quotes. And they're all true.

"I honest to God never thought we were going to lose this game," Olivea said.

6. Maurice Clarett vs. Ohio State pencil pushers.
I thought a mini-controversy earlier in the week (Clarett wanted to go home for the funeral of a boyhood friend, but was told no) could or would mess with his mind. It didn't. Or if it did, he did a great job of compartmentalizing his feelings toward the OSU bureaucrats. He scored twice and made a momentum-changing Don Beebe-ish play in the third quarter when he stole the ball away from free safety Sean Taylor.

So much for early-week distractions. The Buckeyes said Clarett's Monday-Tuesday quotes would be no factor, and they were right.

7. Willis McGahee and Ken Dorsey.
Poor McGahee. He injured his knee early in the fourth period, just as it seemed he was beginning to find some pockets of room in the OSU defense.

Dorsey was sacked four times, was pressured twice that many times, fumbled once, threw two interceptions, was knocked silly in the second overtime, threw wide on a sure TD in that same OT, and couldn't do a thing on the final play of the game. He had his moments, but not enough of them.

8. Larry Coker.
Coker had to do something Friday night that he hasn't done since he got the job two years ago: Congratulate an opposing coach on a win.

Coker was gracious. So was Tressel, who was a bit more animated 10 minutes later, when he told the Ohio State fans: "We've always had the best damn band in the land," he said. "Now we got the best damn team in the land."

9. Kellen Winslow Jr.
The Hurricanes love to use their tight end. This game wasn't any exception. Winslow had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. No other UM receiver had more than five receptions.

10. Maurice Clarett's shoulder.
If his shoulder still hurt, you couldn't tell by the way he ran. Clarett finished with only 56 yards on 23 carries, but he made plays when he had to.

11. Miami's defensive line.
Krenzel was sacked once.

12. Numbers.
Miami entered the game with 12 consecutive wins against ranked opponents. It left it 12-1.

13. Been there, done that.
Ohio State all but held an anti-run pep rally in the box. McGahee and the rest of the UM running backs couldn't find much running room (84 yards between McGahee, Jarrett Payton and Quadtrine Hill), which meant Dorsey had to do most of the heavy lifting. He tried, but it wasn't near enough.

"The only thing that will kill us is turnovers and penalties," McGahee said earlier in the week.

It was a bit of unintended prophecy. Miami finished with two interceptions, three lost fumbles, nearly 18 minutes less time of possession, and six penalties, including the Sharpe pass interference call.

14. Interested.
Nobody can say the Hurricanes didn't play hard. This wasn't UM vs. Rutgers. But five turnovers, and four sacks allowed, and key penalties can't compensate for interest level.

15. Sean Taylor.
Some showcase for Taylor. He made a key interception, and then forgot to tuck the ball in his left arm. Instead, Clarett pried it loose as the UM safety ran down the field.

Still, Taylor finished with 11 tackles -- two solo, nine assists.

16. Speed.
Miami has more of it, I said. Maybe, but Gamble was able to run past cornerback Alfonso Marshall for a 57-yard catch. And Ohio State's defense closed on the ball as well as anyone we've seen this year, including Miami.

"I think you saw what kind of speed we had (Friday)," Gamble said.

17. Attitude.
The Hurricanes were ready. Ohio State was more ready. Buckeye coaches noticed weeks ago that UM defenders were prone to overrun plays, especially from the outside. So they installed more quarterback runs. Result: Krenzel was OSU's leading rusher -- 81 yards, two TDs.

18. More numbers.
No way is Krenzel going to beat the Hurricanes with his arm, I said.

Uh, no way you have to be a molecular genetics major to see I was wrong.

Krenzel only completed seven of 21 passes for 122 yards (and two interceptions), but he was the guy who suggested the pass play to Michael Jenkins on that fourth-and-14. He was also the guy who put it right on the numbers.

"He stepped in and made some big throws," said Gamble.

In return, Krenzel was handed the offensive MVP award.

19. Playmakers.
Both teams had them. Friday evening, Ohio State had more of them.

20. Timing.
So much for waiting until next season. Ohio State got its national championship, despite being double-digit dogs, despite facing the consensus No. 1, despite trailing in the first overtime.

But the Buckeyes were helped by what amounted to a home crowd ("A mini-Horseshoe," said Krenzel of the similarity to Ohio Stadium) and a will to win as strong as tuba metal.

In the end, they had a victory and national championship to cherish.

"We're keeping ESPN Classic in business," said Hartsock.

Instant classic.

Classic for the ages.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at

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