OSU's Defense Not In State Of (De)Knile

Ohio State fans know all about Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks' high-powered passing attack. But the Buckeyes defensive coaches and players know that UA's rushing attack, led by sophomore Knile Davis, has helped Arkansas become one of the best offensive teams in the country.

Ohio State senior linebacker Ross Homan knows what comes to mind when most people hear about the 2010 Arkansas football team.

Most immediately think of Ryan Mallett, the former Michigan quarterback who has set or tied 38 school or stadium records at Arkansas. They think of the QB who has thrown for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns this season.

However, that's not necessarily the only thing that concerns Ohio State's defensive coaches and players. While fans and college football experts focus on the Razorbacks' aerial show, Homan and other do not forget about the ground attack.

"When people think Arkansas they might think of Ryan Mallet right away, but they don't realize that the pass is opened up because of the running game," Homan said. "They have a strong running game."

The Arkansas rushing attack is led by sophomore Knile Davis. The 6-foot, 220-pounder rushed for 1,183 yards this season – third best in the SEC behind Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton of Auburn (1,409) and South Carolina's bruising tailback Marcus Lattimore (1,198). Davis has rushed for more than 100 yards in five games, including the last three games of the regular season.

The Razorbacks are unbeaten when Davis tops the century mark. That includes a 31-23 victory in the regular-season finale against LSU that propelled Arkansas to its first BCS bowl in school history. In that win, Davis carried the ball a career-high 30 times for 152 yards and a touchdown – one of 13 rushing trips to the end zone this season.

Needless to say, Davis has not gone unnoticed by the Buckeye defenders in film studies. Much like Ohio State's Dan "Boom" Herron, Davis took the starting tailback spot by emerging from what was a crowded backfield.

"He's a great running back," senior safety Jermale Hines said. "He's big but can run away from you and make you miss. He runs very hard and we're going to have to do a very good job of tackling. … To me, he's what makes their offense go because of all the play action they do. Play action doesn't work if you can't run the ball."

Senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said he noticed how much more dangerous the Razorbacks became as the season progressed and the rushing game improved.

"I think early in the season when you watch film of them they had to get in certain formations to run the ball," he said. "I think now they can run the ball out of anything. They can create seams as an offensive line. I think Knile Davis really turned it on and was able to read those seams and get those yards for them.

"It adds another element that you really don't want to see with this type of passing attack. It's hard to defend as a defense – to be able to play the run but then be able to play the pass. The play actions are going to be even tougher. It's going to be hard for the linebackers to read and be hard for the D-line to read."

Co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock concurred with Larimore's opinion.

"The running attack is equally as dangerous as their passing attack," Heacock said. "Any time you can do both things it gives you more problems."

Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said the emergence of Davis and how that has helped Mallett reminds him of another quarterback-running back duo.

"Obviously (Davis) came into his own throughout the season. It took a lot of the pressure off of Ryan," said McGee, a former offensive coordinator at Northwestern from 2004-07. "I think there's some people in the world that say John Elway was one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but when Terrell Davis came on the scene he became a champion. I think that's what happened with Ryan."

While no one is really saying Arkansas' dynamic duo are exactly like the former Broncos, but no one can doubt how important Knile Davis has been for the Razorbacks. He had five 100-yard performances in UA's last six games, and during that span Mallett completed 63.4 percent of his passes (110 of 173) for 1,748 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Oh, and the Razorbacks went undefeated in that span.

Davis himself called OSU's focus on stopping him a complement.

"Hopefully they do focus on me and that'll open it up for Mallett," Davis said. "You just have to find a way to stop both.

"That's going to be hard."

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