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Miami offense vs. Ohio State defense
• Hurricanes QB Jacory Harris has an opportunity to shine in this game. The Buckeyes lack elite speed along the defensive front, which leads defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell to blitz more than they would like. They will occasionally utilize a zone blitz with a defensive lineman dropping off into underneath zone, but more often they simply bring extra pressure with a linebacker charging through one of the gaps. Harris' effectiveness in recognizing the blitz, finding his hot reads and making accurate throws with pressure in his face likely will determine the outcome of this game.
If he deals with it well, Miami has too many weapons at wide receiver -- including Leonard Hankerson, Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd and Aldarius Johnson -- for the Buckeyes' secondary to hold up, especially with starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa nursing a sore hamstring. However, making quick, smart decisions while under pressure -- particularly on the road -- has been Harris' weakness to date. If the Miami quarterback has not made significant strides in this department, he will be exposed in Week 2.
• Ohio State's stout run defense is anchored by DE Cameron Heyward. The Buckeyes are big and strong up front, and they do a very good job of protecting MLB Brian Rolle and WLB Ross Homan. Rolle and Homan diagnose plays quickly, take solid angles in pursuit and wrap up in space. Considering Ohio State's experience advantage in the trenches -- with the exception of Miami OT Orlando Franklin -- and its excellent linebacker play, it won't be surprising if Miami's rushing attack sputters. If Miami RB Graig Cooper were at full strength it likely would be a different story, but Cooper played sparingly last week and does not appear to be close to 100 percent following offseason knee surgery. The Hurricanes still have some talent at running back, but Damien Berry is not nearly as elusive or quick as Cooper, and while Mike James is a bit faster than Berry, he lacks the experience to consistently anticipate creases and make the proper cuts.
• The Hurricanes can gain an advantage on special teams, where Ohio State is unusually vulnerable due to inexperience. First year PK Devin Barclay had a field goal attempt blocked by Marshall last week and it was returned 61 yards for a score. The kick was a bit low, but LS Jake McQuaide was mostly to blame for giving up too much ground as a blocker. In addition, kickoff specialist Drew Basil appears to have a strong leg, but the freshman is inconsistent with his distance. Basil's third kickoff in the opener was too short and Marshall RS Andre Booker took advantage with a 63-yard return. Miami, on the other hand, has one of the most versatile and dangerous kickers in the country, Matt Bosher, who handles the place-kicking, kickoff and punting duties. In addition, the Hurricanes have potential game-breakers in the return phase in Travis Benjamin and Lamar Miller.
Ohio State offense vs. Miami defense
• In his past two outings (wins over Oregon and Marshall) Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor has appeared more comfortable in the pocket and is making quicker decisions. He is still a threat to run, but Pryor can do more damage by making proper reads and distributing the ball to his underrated supporting cast. As he showed last week, Pryor will still lose the strike zone on occasion, and he continues to struggle with his accuracy on quick-hitting underneath throws. He simply needs to learn to take some zip off his fastball. But Pryor's accuracy continues to improve and he is showing much better anticipation. His first-quarter completion against Marshall to Dane Sanzenbacher -- Pryor delivered the ball in between the linebacker and safety against a Cover 2 zone -- is a throw he likely would have missed last year at this time.
• Keeping Pryor comfortable in the pocket will be a challenge for the Buckeyes. Their offensive line as a whole has good size, adequate mobility and above-average experience. However, LOT Mike Adams and ROT J.B. Shugarts are the least experienced of the bunch, with only 16 combined starts, and they face the toughest challenge versus Miami's potent defensive end duo of LDE Allen Bailey and RDE Oliver Vernon. Bailey is a versatile lineman with great power and quickness for his size. He won't threaten Shugarts with speed around the corner, but he has an array of power moves that will keep Shugarts guessing. On the opposite side, Vernon is fresh off a 3.5-sack breakout performance in the opener, and he has the explosive speed and athleticism to make Adams' life miserable. Look for the Buckeyes to frequently give one or both of their tackles help in pass protection. If that's the case, Pryor needs his three best pass-catchers -- WRs Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey and RB Brandon Saine -- to consistently separate from coverage and make plays, because the QB won't be getting as much help as usual from a No. 3 receiver or tight ends.
• The Buckeyes are using a two-back rotation of Saine and Dan "Boom" Herron and will occasionally have them on the field at the same time. In our opinion, the more touches for Saine the better, because he's a true difference-maker. Saine shows good patience waiting for his blocks to develop, and once he sees a crease he shows great burst to get through the line of scrimmage or bounce the run outside. Saine is also a natural pass-catcher with route-running savvy and reliable hands. In Week 1, the Buckeyes clearly worked to get the ball to Saine more often as a receiver out of the backfield, and we expect that trend to continue versus Miami and beyond. It will require a great deal of discipline from Miami's linebackers -- particularly MLB Colin McCarthy and WLB Sean Spence -- to keep Saine in check. The Canes cannot afford to have their "space" linebackers get overzealous when filling gaps versus the run or play-action.
Key Individual Match-up
Miami LOT Orlando Franklin vs.
Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward
These are two of the best players in the country at their positions. Heyward will move around the defensive line at times, but the majority of his snaps are spent at right end, which is where he will go head-to-head with Franklin. Heyward does not possess elite top-end speed, but he is big and powerful, does a good job of anchoring versus the run, and also has the quickness and power to generate consistent penetration with an array of double moves and bull rushes. Franklin might be the best offensive tackle Heyward faces this season, though. The 6-foot-7, 312-pounder has quick feet for his size, consistently gets into good position, and shows the lower-body strength and balance to limit Heyward's push as a power rusher. If Franklin can keep Heyward quiet as a pass-rusher, it will force Ohio State to blitz more often than it likes, and then it will be up to QB Jacory Harris and his receivers to communicate and connect against a vulnerable back seven.
These programs have combined for 12 national titles and accounted for 80 first-round picks in the past 25 NFL drafts. Ohio State's controversial 2003 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami -- which won the national title for the Buckeyes -- will also generate a great deal of buzz leading up to this showdown. However, the history and tradition of these two programs won't matter when they take the field. What will matter is the play of Pryor and Harris. Harris is the better pure passer, but Pryor is making significant strides in that department. Plus, Pryor is developing into a better decision-maker, is the better athlete and has the built-in advantage of playing this nonconference showdown at home. The Hurricanes are much-improved from a year ago, and we expect them to battle Ohio State for four quarters. But coach Jim Tressel's Buckeyes know how to win close games and will take control in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Buckeyes 27, Hurricanes 24