Buckeye offense faces tough challenge

When talking about Kansas State, much of the talk has been regarding the Wildcats' offensive firepower, but the defense has been very good as well. What can OSU expect from the KSU D?

Kansas State, known more for its offensive firepower, has one of the best-kept secrets in college football: its outstanding defense.

The Wildcats are ranked fifth nationally in total defense (279.2 yards per game), fourth in scoring defense (14.9), eighth in pass defense (173.5) and 15th in rushing defense (105.6).

"No question they have a great defense," Ohio State tight end Ben Hartsock said. "When you rank near the top in almost every category, that's impressive."

Kansas State's defensive balance is what makes it so dangerous. The Wildcats don't have a noticeable weakness – as evidenced by the statistics – and they have quite a bit of team speed.

"Yeah, they're a speed defense," Hartsock said. "Every position they play, they have a guy that's ready to run and be all over the place. Their interior defensive linemen have great quickness, great speed, so we've got to be ready for that. They're a team that flies all over the place and is just going to swarm to the ball."

Safe to say that K-State will be the best defense the Buckeyes have faced this season?

"Oh, I think they'll be the fastest defense we've faced, but I don't think they're the most physical defense we've faced," Hartsock said. "They bring their own challenges, but they also have their weaknesses in that sense. We have to prove to be the more physical team."

Kansas State, which runs a basic 4-3 defense, racked up 51 team sacks this season. It doesn't blitz all that much, so the high sack total is an impressive figure.

* The Wildcats have an average-sized defensive line, but they are quick across the board.

The veteran D-line is led by end Andrew Shull (6-5, 260, Sr.) and tackle Justin Montgomery (6-2, 281, Sr.), both second-team All-Big 12 selections.

Shull had seven sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss. Montgomery added six sacks.

The other starters on the line are: end Tom Houchin (6-3, 260, Sr.) and wrecking-ball nose guard Jermaine Berry (6-0, 295, Jr.). Both are first-year starters.

* The linebacking corps is arguably the top unit in the Big 12.

The group is led by MLB Josh Buhl (6-0, 220, Sr.) who led his conference with an incredible 171 tackles (96 solo). Buhl, a second-team All-American selection, had 31 more stops than the No. 2 tackler in the Big 12: Barrett Ruud of Nebraska.

Buhl is not a one-year wonder, as he racked up 135 tackles and 10 TFL last season.

Strong-side linebacker Bryan Hickman (6-3, 230, Sr.) was second on the team with 104 tackles and added 12 tackles-for-loss.

Weak-side 'backer Ted Sims (6-1, 230, So.) is a first-year starter and finished the regular season with 71 stops.

* The secondary is also talented and includes a couple of big, playmaking safeties.

Strong safety Rashad Washington (6-3, 210, Sr.), who the 'Cats love to bring up in run support, had 90 tackles and two interceptions. Washington is a former tailback who had 106 rushing yards as a true freshman in 2000. Someone named Darren Sproles made sure his time on the offense was short-lived.

Free safety James McGill (6-3, 215, Sr.) led the team with six picks this season. No, he is not related to Norma.

The cornerbacks are three-year starter Randy Jordan (6-2, 175, Sr.), who has three interceptions this year, and diminutive first-year starter Cedrick Williams (5-9, 165, Jr.).

* Kansas State's punter is Jared Brite (6-2, 185, Sr.). He averaged a solid 41.1 yards per punt this season.

Overall, Ohio State's offensive players have been impressed with what they have seen on film from the Wildcats.

"They are just a real solid defense without a true weakness," OSU guard Alex Stepanovich said. "It's obviously going to be a tough test for us, but we'll be ready."

So, which area of the defense is the strength of the Wildcats? Probably the linebackers, but the defensive line is not far behind.

"I think pretty much all three (defensive line, linebackers, secondary) do well," Stepanovich said. "The D-line always does a great job of applying pressure, so they don't blitz a lot. I think with the speed they have on their defense, it's tough to get guys open and that's what gives their D-line a chance to get after the passer. They have a couple really good linebackers too."

The Buckeyes have faced a lot of fast defenses this season, but K-State could be the fastest.

"I would say they're similar in their speed and the fast-type of defense to a Purdue that we saw this year," Hartsock said. "I'll have to wait until Jan. 3 to tell you who is faster."

A sign of a great defense is one that gets stronger as the game progresses.

"I think K-State does a good job of improving as the game goes on," Stepanovich said. "I think Oklahoma was hitting them early with a lot of things and they're smart players and they adjust well on the run. As games have gone on in their season, they've gotten a lot better (defensively) in the second half and shut a lot of teams down."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories