Friday, November 16, 2001

Syracuse's Freeney provides big test for Miami's Big Mac

This week's top TV game will decide Big East title

AP Sports Writer

        MIAMI — Miami tackle Bryant McKinnie answered dozens of questions about Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney this week, praising the nation's sack leader each time.

        McKinnie also spoke highly of someone else.

        “Freeney's a good player, but so am I,” McKinnie said. “I'm not garbage. He's not going to run over me.”

        McKinnie and Freeney are two of the best in the nation at their positions, and their matchup is one of the biggest storylines of Saturday's game between top-ranked Miami (8-0, 5-0 Big East) and No. 14 Syracuse (8-2, 5-0) at the Orange Bowl.

        “People want to see what I'm made of and people want to see what he's made of,” McKinnie said. “It's going to be a battle the entire game.”

        McKinnie, a 6-foot-9, 335-pound senior who didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school, has not given up a sack. Not this season. Not last year. Not in two seasons at junior college.


        His long arms and quick feet make it difficult for defenders to get around him.

        “He's so big. People don't understand a 94-inch wingspan. That's eight feet,” Freeney said. “It doesn't make any sense. It's ridiculous. He's a giant, and he's got some good techniques and fundamentals. It's a matter of finding a way, finding some type of weakness, and that's what I'm going to be doing.”

        Few people have found any weaknesses against McKinnie. Teammate Matt Walters faces him every week, and although Walters has had some success against him in practice, he admits that no single move seems to work twice.

        “The only way to beat Big Mac is to set him up with the same move over and over again, then come at him with something different and try to catch him off guard,” Walters said. “If that doesn't work, then you better hope he trips and falls.”

        So what would it take to beat McKinnie?

        “You would need Reggie White's strength and Jevon Kearse's speed. Even then, it would be a good matchup,” Walters said.

        McKinnie — who shut down Florida State's Jamal Reynolds last year and did the same to Florida's Alex Brown in the Sugar Bowl — could have his hands full Saturday with Freeney. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound lineman had a serious spleen injury last season but returned this year and set the NCAA single-season sack record last week at 16 1/2.

        Coaches and players around the country say Freeney's speed and relentless pursuit of the football are his best assets and make him tough to stop — or even slow down.

        “He's got a great engine, phenomenal ability and he has a whole arsenal of pass rush moves,” Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. “For a guy who's not that big, he's got unbelievable strength. He doesn't get cut easily, he never stays on the ground, he chases people. We're going to be hard pressed to block him.”

        Freeney led the league with 13 sacks last season despite playing only seven games because of the injury. He had a school and Big East record four sacks in a dominating performance against Michael Vick and Virginia Tech.

        But he started feeling ill a few days later, becoming weaker and weaker every day. He had little energy and couldn't move.

        Doctors didn't know what was wrong until tests showed he had a lacerated spleen and was bleeding internally. The only thing he could do was rest. He missed the final four games, including the one against Miami.

        Now he's back and ready to prove himself against one of the best — McKinnie.

        “Mac can't take a play off; he can't relax,” Kehoe said. “This guy will throw you, he'll put you on your back, he'll beat you inside. Just when you think you've got him pass blocked, boom he makes a sack.

        “He's a heck of a football player, but Mac is too. It's a sensational matchup.”


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- Syracuse's Freeney provides big test for Miami's Big Mac
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