Coaches- Players discuss Keys to Victory in Fiesta
K-State hopes to Slay yet another Giant
by Mark Janssen
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Kansas State's 'giant killing' Wildcats will try to do it again tomorrow night.
In the 33rd Annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium, the No. 8 and 11-3 Wildcats will take on No. 7 and 10-2 Buckeyes of Ohio State, the defending national champions.
Kickoff is at 7 (Manhattan time), and the game will be televised by ABC. K-State, the 102nd winningest team (.434) in NCAA football history, will be taking on a storied Ohio State program that has the sixth winningest all-time mark (.709).
Already this year, K-State has defeated Oklahoma (No. 4, .711) and Nebraska (No. 7, .708). "This team has accomplished a lot, but we have one more to go," said senior quarterback Ell Roberson. "We want to finish this thing right."
And, the Wildcats' goal since defeating No. 1-ranked Oklahoma 35-7 on Dec. 6 for the Big 12 Championship has been to convince the college football arena that "it wasn't a fluke," in the words of the Wildcats.
On the challenge, Ohio State's offensive guard Adrien Clarke said, "We expect them to come in with an even higher 'A-game' than they had against Oklahoma. They will want to welcome us to the Big 12, and we want to welcome them to the Big 10."
WHEN KSU HAS THE BALL In Ell Roberson, Darren Sproles and James Terry, K-State has a three-pronged playmaking attack never seen before in Wildcat history. Roberson has thrown, Sproles has run and Terry has caught balls for 5,373 yards in 14 games. By comparison, in 1998, Michael Bishop, Eric Hickson and Darnell McDonald totaled 4,838 yards in 13 games.
Plus, OSU coach Jim Tressel says, "The tight end tends to find a way to make plays, the fullback is great in his own way and their offensive line allows great things to happen. In a drop of a hat, Sproles can change the game. It's why they are so good. They have it all."
But K-State will be putting that offense against a defense that has it all ranking No. 1 in the nation against the run (61 yards), No. 9 in total defense (290) and No. 13 in scoring defense (16.8).
It's a defense that includes all-Americans in Will Smith at end and Will Allen at strong safety; a defense that has other first-team all-Big 10 players in Tim Anderson at tackle, A.J. Hawk at linebacker, Chris Gamble at cornerback, not to mention punter B.J. Sander.
"You can't concentrate on one or two guys, they're pretty balanced across the board," said KSU offensive coordinator Del Miller. "There are no weak links." Hawk is the leading tackler, plus has 11.5 stops for negative yards; Smith has 10.5 sacks and 10 other arrests for negative yards; Hawk, Allen and Donte Whitner each have two interceptions.
"Ohio State is undeniably the best run defense team in the nation. It's documented and proven on tapes," said KSU coach Bill Snyder. "They are very talented, very physical and run extremely well. They present a lot of problems for an offense."
K-State center Nick Leckey said of Ohio State's defense, "I'd say they're better than Oklahoma. What I notice is that in the third and fourth quarters they don't get worn down. In the third quarter that second wind seems to kick in and they get tougher."
Wildcat Ryan Lilja added, "They're good. We've seen them blow up some pretty good offensive lines." In summary, Miller said, "It will be important for Ell to bring his 'A-game.' The stakes keep going up."
WHEN OHIO STATE HAS THE BALL Winning teams have to run the football, and that's what is concerning to Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who says of the running game: "At times it has been OK, but at times it hasn't."
In four games this year Ohio State rushed for 69 yards or less. It's go-to back is Lydell Ross, who averages just 62 yards and has had games of 22 yards against Michigan, 16 against Iowa, 28 against Wisconsin, 43 against Northwestern and 16 against San Diego State.
That could put the ball in the hands of quarterback Craig Krenzel, a 6-4, 225-pound senior, to win or lose the game. "Toughness," said Tressel to define his quarterback. "He's a cerebral guy who is always studying the game. He's very confident, makes plays and has an uncanny ability that when it's most needed, he make plays."
But Krenzel, who completes 56 percent of his passes for 185 yards per game, knows his night will be challenging. "They're aggressive and come at you physically," Krenzel said of the Wildcats' defense. "They do a great job of not showing a lot of keys when they are blitzing. You watch them play and have no clue as to what's coming. You have to adjust on the run to what they are doing."
Bollman says that K-State's defense is much like the one he sees in practice every day with talented all-conference players scattered all over the field.
"No. 98 (Andrew Shull) seems to be in the backfield all the time, but that's not to discount all four of their linemen," Bollman said. "Plus their linebackers all run unbelievably well. That (Josh) Buhl is a fast, fast guy."
K-State does have balance with Buhl having scored 171 tackles, Bryan Hickman 104, Shull has 16 arrests for negative yards with eight sacks, and James McGill six interceptions. "Nobody plays a whole game without having trouble blocking them," said Bollman.
KEYS TO VICTORY What will mean victory to either side? Listen to the experts:
Miller, KSU offensive coordinator: "We can't turn the ball over and we have to be diverse. When you go against a defense as good as Ohio State's, you have to be unpredictable."
Bollman, OSU's offensive coordinator: "You have to have some kind of balance. If they make you throw the ball every down, it's going to be tough. On the other hand, when we do have to throw, we have to give Craig a little bit of time."
Dantonio, OSU's defensive coordinator: "Tackling and come up with turnovers. In any game, the team that wins the turnover margin normally wins the game. That, and eliminate the big play."
Roberson, KSU quarterback: "We have to eliminate the mistakes; we can't beat ourselves. If we play our game, the sky is the limit."
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