Balance The Buzzword For OSU Offense

The Buckeyes know they will need to throw the ball effectively to have a chance against the Kansas State defense, ranked fifth nationally, in tonight's Fiesta Bowl.

On paper, it looks like a real mismatch -- the Ohio State offense against the Kansas State defense in tonight‘s Fiesta Bowl (8 p.m., ABC).

On one hand, you have the OSU offense, ranked 87th nationally in rushing (124.3 yards per game) and 93rd in total offense (331.8 ypg). On the other, you have Kansas State, which weighs in at 15th nationally against the run (105.6 ypg), eighth against the pass (173.6 ypg), fifth in total defense (279.2 ypg) and fourth against the score (14.9 points per game).

But, just as Ohio State showed in last year's Fiesta Bowl upset of Miami (Fla.) in the national championship game, the Buckeyes have shown they are capable of coming up with what they need to win a big game.

Of course, whatever has happened in the past will have little to do with what happens between the lines Friday night. And this vaunted K-State defense has the respect of OSU offensive coordinator.

"They are really, really good," Bollman said. "Real fast. They will run to the ball and their upfront guys are all outstanding. They are outstanding pass rushers and they really, really do a good job on passing situations. They tee off and get going. The linebackers run really well. They run so well they don't have to do a lot of nickel things. The challenge will be to get a real good balance against them. Not many teams can run the ball against them consistently. They are going to make you throw the ball."

During the course of the regular season, OSU ran the ball about 57 percent of the time. Bollman always preaches that OSU must show a "hint of balance" between the run and the pass. With a great defense like K-State's coming up next, he is saying that again.

"I think we could help ourselves if we could get a little better balance going," Bollman said. "I think it would be difficult for us to have to throw the ball every play. When I say balance, you have to be able to throw some on normal situations. You have to be able to execute on third down. They are going to do everything they can to stop the run."

If OSU turns to the passing game -- where receivers Santonio Holmes and Michael Jenkins are each coming off a 100-yard game against Michigan -- quarterback Craig Krenzel would be tested. Krenzel, who suffered a shoulder injury against Michigan, has declared himself fit.

"I am healthy now," said Krenzel, who completed 55.9 percent of his passes for 1,851 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. "I have one more game to go. My focus is on Friday night. I do whatever I am asked to do to win football games. That is the number one thing you can do no matter what your position is.

"We do need to be more balanced. We had some success throwing the ball in the Michigan game. As they began to adjust to it and they realized we weren't going to attempt to run the ball, their pass defense became better. Any time you can't run the ball, it makes it more difficult to throw and vice versa. We know we're going to need to be able to do both well."

Krenzel was asked if he was interested in throwing 45 passes in his OSU swan song. (His career high 36 attempts in the triple overtime win over N.C. State.)

"Yeah, if we get 80 plays, but there needs to be a proportion of balance," Krenzel said. "If we throw 35 times, we need to run it 35 times. We need to mix it up. We need to both well or it's hard to put points on the board."

Some of the key names to look for on the Kansas State defense include defensive lineman Justin Montgomery, defensive end Andrew Shull, linebackers Al Buhl and Bryan Hickman and strong safety Rashad Washington.

"They're a fast, physical defensive football team," Jenkins said. "They run to the ball and make plays out there. (Kansas State coach Bill) Snyder is known for his schemes."

OSU's struggling run game -- the Buckeyes only had four games where a running back reached the 100-yard mark -- will also be counted on to contribute.

"We're going against one of the best run defense teams," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They always have an extra hat in the box, it seems. Their safeties are good tacklers. Their linebackers are very active. They have some down guys who don't stay blocked. Our run game better get better if we're going to be able to do something.

"We had a stretch in there where I thought things got better, probably from the second half against Iowa on from there. I don't think we ran it as we as we should have against Michigan. We need to make another step against these guys."

Earlier in the week, OSU guard Adrien Clarke caught some grief for reportedly saying the Buckeyes would "push" the Wildcats all over the field. Clarke denied ever making the comment and actually went the other way, heaping praise on the K-State defensive front.

"Their front four is probably the best front four we have seen this year," Clarke said. "Their two inside guys are great technicians. They come off the ball. They are good with their hands. Their defensive ends are probably the best we've seen this year. They are quick and they like to get after people."

Kansas State's Take

K-State's Hickman, a rangy outside linebacker, said the Wildcats' defense is used to living in the shadow of the team's star-powered offense.

"All the fans and media think we have an O.K. defense," Hickman said. "I think we're overlooked. I guess it's kind of hard to look at our defense when we do have two great players on offense like Darren (Sproles) and Ell (Roberson). They take up a lot of the attention.

"I think this game is going to be one of those battles of who can smash who first. If that doesn't work, they're going to have to go to something else and I'm hoping that's going to happen."

Defensive end Thomas Houchin noted how the teams mirror each other.

"From the way their team plays, there are a lot of similarities," he said. "They pride themselves on being a very physical football team. They're going to win a lot of games in the fourth quarter. That's what Coach Snyder has talked about since I've been here. Very great on special teams, play field position. Every aspect of the game Jim Tressel coaches and they do well, Coach Snyder stresses and we do well.

"It doesn't matter who we go play against. We haven't been put in the spotlight very much and now that we have been put in the spotlight, we have to go out and we have to prove ourselves once again. We have a chip on our shoulder because that's just the kind of people we are. Our defense always wants to get a chip on their shoulder because people don't want to talk about how good we are. Our offense has a chip on their shoulder because they think Darrren should have been a lot higher in the Heisman voting. We always have chips on our shoulders.

"You can't get much bigger unless you're playing Jan. 4. This is the biggest game we've played in our program."

Sure enough, this will be K-State first BCS bowl game -- it will be OSU's third in six years.

"Even though we're favored by seven there probably aren't a lot of people out there who expect us to win," Houchin said. "Ohio State is a very historic program. We're a new up-and-coming program."

Houchin believes K-State already proved itself with the way it handled Oklahoma (35-7) in the Big 12 title game.

"I don't want to sound cocky but Oklahoma can line up again and we're confident we'll do the exact same thing to them again," he said. "And I think OU knows that, too."

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