The ‘X’ factor: Tight ends

Everyone knows the historical implications dating back to the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (or Fiasco Bowl as some Cane fans call it). Everyone knows the Heisman hype surrounding junior quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Jacory Harris. Everyone knows the NFL Pro Bowlers that OSU and UM produce year after year. Everyone knows Buckeye coach Jim Tressel’s traditional game day sweater and Hurricane coach Randy Shannon’s stoic sideline demeanor.

But what the common fan does not realize is that the X-factor of Saturday’s showdown will involve two players that have a combined five NCAA catches. The impact players are Miami junior tight end Chase Ford and Ohio State sophomore tight end Jake Stoneburner.

Ford is a junior college transfer who was only a target for one play last Thursday during Miami’s 45-0 rout over FAMU. That may have been by design though as Miami didn’t want to expose its game plan to the No. 2 Buckeyes.

Ford is expected to thrive in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s schemes, which features a lot of passes to the tight end especially in the red zone. Last year, Miami receivers caught 25 touchdown passes and 40 percent of those were caught by tight ends.

“I love the system,” Ford said. “I like how it works. Good mix of everything. You need to look over playbook every night to make sure you know everything.”

Ford is the unknown, while receivers like senior Leonard Hankerson and junior Travis Benjamin are proven.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has Stoneburner who is eager to take the field at Ohio Stadium in front of over 100,000 fans on Saturday at 3:40 p.m.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Stoneburner told The Miami Hurricane in an exclusive interview. “There is no way Miami can prepare or has seen an atmosphere like they’ll experience Saturday.”

There have been loud speakers blaring at 6 a.m. all week on Green Tree Practice Field in anticipation for the hostile environment.

While Miami is trying to emulate the noise it will have to endure, Stoneburner is trying to emulate the same success fellow Big Ten school Wisconsin had last year against Miami in Champ Sports Bowl.

“I’ve watched that game a couple of times and Wisconsin tight ends had a field day and were all over the place. I think they had 13 or 14 catches,” Stoneburner said. “It’s a different year so it will be a challenge though.”

Linebackers are going to be responsible for covering the tight ends and need to play assignment football. But UM redshirt senior linebacker Colin McCarthy, who visited Columbus in 2006 on a recruiting trip, has other thoughts.

He would love for tight ends to challenge the middle of the field.

“We have to stop the run and neutralize the run game and make them one dimensional,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy is referring to Pryor’s mobility outside the pocket. The 6-foot-6-inch, 233 pounder was the Rose Bowl MVP last year.

“Everyone knows Pryor is extremely athletic and fast but no one realizes how good of a leader he is,” Stoneburner said.

Meanwhile redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Marcus Forston says going up against Pryor won’t be a challenge because Pryor won’t even be the best quarterback on the field come Saturday afternoon.

“We go up against the best quarterback in the nation every day,” Forston said of his longtime teammate Jacory Harris. “So by going up against Jacory every day, we can be ready for anybody.”

No matter which angle you take, this matchup is poised to be an instant classic, but look for the tight ends to be the difference makers.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at