Stopping Roberson, Sproles Job One For OSU D

Jim Tressel insisted that defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio stick around to coach Ohio State's defense against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, and he made that decision for a good reason: K-State's backfield duo of Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles are an absolute load to try and contain.

Ohio State defensive tackle Tim Anderson is a down-to-earth guy who is usually not prone to hyperbole. In the dictionary next to the phrase "meat-and-potatoes guy," they would probably have his picture.

So it was interesting to hear his comments trying to contain the powerful Kansas State running attack in Friday's Fiesta Bowl (8 p.m., ABC). The Wildcats base their offense around run/pass quarterback Ell Roberson and All-American tailback Darren Sproles.

"It would be about the same as the challenge of climbing Mount Everest," Anderson said of the task of trying to contain Roberson and Sproles. "It's so difficult. They've basically got two tailbacks back there who are both extremely talented. Sproles has incredible vision, incredible quickness and speed. He does a great job of making guys miss. Roberson is much the same. To shut both of them down is going to be a tremendous task. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us, but we're looking forward to it."

It is no wonder that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel insisted that defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio, named the head coach at Cincinnati Dec. 23, stay on the job for one more week to help the Buckeyes come up with a game plan to stop the Wildcats.

In making that decision, Tressel probably took Dantonio's experience coaching against K-State coach Bill Snyder's teams into consideration.

"I've got great respect for K-State's program and what they've done over the years," Dantonio said. "I was at Kansas from 1991 through ‘94 and I know they play hard. They're very well coached. They're dedicated to excellence. I sort of know what to expect. It's a wild atmosphere. It's always fun to play a team like that."

The 5-7, 170-pound Sproles, who finished fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting, led the nation with 1,948 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Dantonio admitted that locating the slight Sproles and getting him to the ground will be quite a task.

"It's a huge task and it is critical that you be able to tackle in space against him," he said. "When you've had a month off and all of a sudden see quality backs, there's a change in speed and you need to be able to be accustomed to that as the game goes along."

Of course, if you concentrate too much on Sproles, Roberson also has the ability to carve you up with his running ability as well as his passing. This year, Roberson, wrapping his third year as a starter, completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 2,251 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also rushed 211 times for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"I look at them and they have 500 carries between the two of them and 3,000 yards rushing," Dantonio said. "So I would say that they are a big concern of ours because they're both a very big part of their offense. I'm sure as the game progresses they'll both have their moments because they're very good football players."

Tressel, in assessing this offense, made a comparison: "I think they are a little bit like Michigan, but they also have the dimension where the quarterback will run it a lot."

As noted Roberson did throw 11 picks. Plus, K-State fumbled the ball 22 times and lost 13. Ten of K-State's 29 turnovers came in the three games the Wildcats lost this year. If the Buckeyes can force two or more turnovers, that could become a factor in this game.

"I think we've got to come up with turnovers," Dantonio said. "We've got to try and win the turnover and eliminate the big play."

More From The Players

We polled a number of the OSU defensive players for their take on this Kansas State offense. Here is what they had to say:

* Safety Will Allen on OSU's emphasis -- "We just have to stop the run. That's the key. If you stop the run, you make a team one dimensional. That's going to be extremely difficult because it's almost like they have two good tailbacks back there. We have to read our keys, be disciplined and not give up any big pass plays."

* Safety Dustin Fox on Roberson -- "He is a very talented guy. He always makes something good happen. He makes a lot of plays with his feet. He wants to run the ball first. I haven't seen him do a whole lot throwing the ball. He has some guys who can make some plays. But for the most part, I think they're a running team. He likes to keep the ball on the option.

"He's not like (Bowling Green's Josh) Harris because Harris wanted to pass first. He is different than Roberson. He is definitely a running quarterback. We haven't faced anyone quite like him. He is very unique and very good at what he does.

"When they're in there together, it's like facing a two-back set even though there's only one man in the backfield. We have to prepare to play those two backs."

* Fox on Sproles -- "I don't know who to compare him to. He's just a great player. You watch him and you're just so impressed with some of the moves he makes. He makes people miss all the time. He's just a little guy, but he's so fast. I just have a tremendous amount of respect for that guy. He's got tremendous speed. A little guy like that, he sometimes gets lost. Then, he just pops out and you can't catch him because he's so fast."

* Anderson on what he'll be up against --"They are very solid up front. They proved they could compete against a top team by beating Oklahoma. There quarterback can beat you many different ways and their running back is fast and strong. They will be a great team to play against. We are going to have to shut down their running game and force their quarterback to make bad decisions by getting pressure on him."

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