Friday, January 3, 2003
Clarett's emotional state: Fiesta X-factor
By JON SPENCER
The Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal
PHOENIX - Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett has been off-limits to reporters the last two days, leaving everyone to wonder whether he will channel some of the anger he has directed at his school into a great performance against run-challenged Miami in Friday night's Fiesta Bowl.
Clarett says he's 100 percent physically after dealing with a shoulder stinger the last half of the regular season. But is he 100 percent mentally after blaming the school for not finding a way to cut through bureaucratic tape and get him home for a friend's funeral on Monday?
"One never knows where someone is in the grieving process," coach Jim Tressel said Thursday. "He's going through it. This might be a fortunate moment in that he has a lot of family and friends and coaches around, and I think he's working hard to handle that situation."
The "D" word has been thrown around a lot in recent days. But instead of talking about the dynasty Miami has forged during a 34-game winning streak, everyone seems focused on the potential distraction Clarett has caused his team with his emotional outbursts.
His rants have ranged from complaining that "football is more important than life" at Ohio State to calling school officials "liars" in the way they handled his situation.
"I'm very confident in the way our guys feel about playing this game," Tressel said. "I don't think when you have a group of 105 players and 20 some coaches and managers you ever pretend everyone's on the same page. But I feel good about how they feel about one another ... I feel good about our preparation and now you have to see if that turns into getting it done (in the game)."
The Buckeyes will likely need Clarett, who has rushed for a school freshman record 1,190 yards, at the top of his game to win the school's first consensus national championship since 1968. They need Clarett and the clock to keep moving against a Miami defense that has been vulnerable to the run, and limit the Hurricanes' quick-strike opportunities.
The 'Canes, favored by two touchdowns, have averaged 1:58 for their 67 touchdown drives this season. Thirty-seven touchdowns were scored in less than two minutes and 18 took less than a minute.
"Sometimes they only have the ball a couple of plays and they score," OSU cornerback Dustin Fox said. "Our goal is to get more third downs. It seems like they either score real fast or it's three-and-out.
"We've got to take that challenge and not allow the big play. It will be fun to get on the field with them and see how we stack up."
Ohio State doesn't make its 40-yard dash times known, but Fox, tailback Maurice Hall and wide receiver/cornerback Chris Gamble are said to be the team's quickest players.
At Miami, tailback Willis McGahee (a Heisman Trophy finalist) runs a 4.26, receiver Andre Johnson (co-MVP in last year's national championship game) runs a 4.34 and team-best 10.5 in the 100 meters, and receiver Roscoe Parrish runs a 4.35. Andrew Williams, a 6-4, 262-pound defensive end, was the anchor on Hinds Community College's 4 x 100 relay team and 6-4, 271-pound end Jerome McDougle ran the second leg on that team.
"Our entire track team are football players," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "A week or two after last year's Rose Bowl (a 37-14 Miami win over Nebraska for the national crown), McGahee and Johnson ran at a Big East track meet. Andre got first in the 55 meters and Willis came in third. Without even working out ... against real track people."
Miami thrives on the big play. Ohio State denies the big play. The Buckeyes have allowed only 11 runs of more than 15 yards this season and four of those were in the first half against Wisconsin. They lead the nation in giving up only four rushing touchdowns and have allowed only two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) in their last five games.
Remarkably, the opposition has scored touchdowns on only nine of 36 trips inside the 20-yard line.
"Is it structural or attitude? I'd like to think it's a little bit of both," defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio said. "I'd like to think it shows the character of the players and the way they've handled themselves down there (in the red zone).
"Three things I ask our players to do consistently - we've got to play with toughness, with great effort, and we've got to know what to do. It's a matter of getting our mind right."
But is Maurice Clarett's mind right?
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