Ohio State's defense will face a stout running team in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys are the No. 8 rushing team in the country at 245 yards per game.
Vernand Morency (5-10, 215, Jr.) has rushed for 1,454 yards and 12 touchdowns, continuing the strong tradition of Oklahoma State tailbacks.
"Yeah, he's not a huge guy, but he definitely runs hard and that creates a pretty big challenge for a defensive guy," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "He runs low and runs behind his pads as we like to say. He'll definitely run some people over, and he's got some great moves and speed. He's shown that with what he's done this year."
Ohio State cornerback Dustin Fox knows he'll be coming up in run support quite a bit to try and slow down Morency.
"He's a small guy, but you watch him against Texas, I think it was, he caught a jailbreak screen and made about eight guys miss and outran the whole team for like an 80-yard touchdown," Fox said. "He's got amazing speed and he's really strong. He's good and he can break tackles, but he's got amazing speed."
As good as they are running the ball, the Cowboys struggle in the passing game. They are ranked No. 111 nationally – averaging 144.1 yards per game.
Overall, Oklahoma State is ranked No. 45 in total offense with 389.1 yards per game.
Ohio State counters with the No. 37 total defense in the land, allowing 336.2 yards a game. The Buckeyes are No. 36 against the run (128.7) and No. 52 against the pass (207.5).
"The more and more I look at Oklahoma State – I really didn't know much about them – but I think they're a fantastic football team," Ohio State defensive end Simon Fraser said. "They took Oklahoma right down to the wire, they were up 35-7 against Texas. I think the only one game that they played horrible, according to them, was the Texas A&M game. As you see the season progress, they got better and better, just like we did. So, it's going to be a great matchup for both teams to come down and show how far they've come along this season."
Fraser says the onus is on the defensive line to disrupt the Cowboys' offensive plan.
"It's important for the defensive line to be able to stop the run, get pressure and get that job done," he said. "Just because, it allows the defensive backs and us as a defense totally to do a lot of different things and we don't have to blitz a lot to get pressure. So, that's just something that we strive and try to do around here and as the season went along, it started to get better and better."
Fraser is excited to make the trip to San Antonio.
"I've heard nothing but good things about San Antonio," he said. "I'm just really excited to get down there and see what the atmosphere is like. Everyone tells me that the Riverwalk is unbelievable, and I got a chance to see the movie The Alamo, so I'm going to go check out the Alamo and see what it's really like and have a chance to see some history as well."
After facing so many spread offenses this season, Hawk is anxious to face a predominantly running team. He likes knowing that the Cowboys are just going to line up and come right at them.
"Of course," he said. "Because we knew it was kind of between Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to play in this bowl game against us and Texas Tech is a completely opposite team from Oklahoma State. They like to throw it around, while Oklahoma State likes to play a little smash mouth football and it's kind of like a Big Ten-style game, I think, and I think people like to watch that. And as linebackers, we definitely like playing in those kind of games."
Ohio State makes no secret what its defensive game plan will be.
"Obviously, as a defense, we're always focused on stopping the run," Hawk said. "We know they're a great running team and that's how they like to attack people. So, our first priority is obviously stop the run. They have a tailback and a quarterback that can both run the ball, so it's like having two tailbacks in there at the same time. So, it's going to be a challenge, but it should be fun."
"Yeah, I think so, a little bit," he said. "He'll keep the ball on a quarterback draw, or run the option, and he's picked up some good yardage this year. He's got a lot of talent and he's dangerous."
Hawk played for a national championship his first year, then played in a BCS bowl last year. This year might seem like a letdown, but Hawk says there is plenty to play for.
"I think any bowl game – sure it's not a national championship game – but it's a big game and it's a chance for us to go against the Big 12 again and show them what we can do," he said. "We don't play against Big 12 teams usually during the season, but you kind of have to show what you're worth against other conferences. So, we definitely want to make sure guys like Simon and Dustin are sent out right.
"Going into the Michigan game, we knew we had two good chances to send our seniors out right. We took care of Michigan, but now we have another huge step in Oklahoma State. You never want to end your season on a bad note with a loss like that. Since I've been here, we've won both of our bowl games and I think it kind of helps you as you carry into next year and your winter workouts, it really helps. So, we want to make sure for this team in the future and for these seniors now that we send them out right."
Hawk was recently named first-team All-American by Walter Camp and the Associated Press.
"It obviously a big honor to be named All-American and to just be around great players like that," the always humble Hawk said. "I don't think any of us would have been there without the great supporting cast we have around here. I just think it's another little incentive to come out there and prove it on the field that you deserve to be named All-American. It might put a little target on your back – people might want you to prove it – so you want to come out here and prove that you are what people say you are."
Hawk was present for the College Football Awards show in Orlando last week. He was happy to see OSU kicker Mike Nugent – his former teammate at Centerville High School – bring home the Lou Groza Award.
"That was fun," Hawk said. "I was glad I got to see Nuge win. I knew he had to be the favorite going into that and I was just glad they finally recognized that and gave it to him.
"I was there Wednesday through (Friday morning). Wednesday night was the dinner for the Walter Camp team and Thursday was just the awards show. I think it was a great experience just being around that many guys that you see on TV and on the national stage. It's good to see them. When you get there, they're actually good guys. They're down to earth and just like any other college football player. I think they all deserved what they got and they're showing they're great players."
Hawk has said over and over again he will be back for his senior season. He simply loves playing football at Ohio State.
"For me, no, I never thought about (leaving early)," he said. "It's never really crossed my mind because I like it here so much. I don't want to leave. I'm upset that I only have one more year left here. I get along so well with the players and coaches and I enjoy it so much.
"I just remember growing up and watching Buckeye Replay and wanting to be a Buckeye. I watched how much fun the guys were having out there and I don't think you can duplicate that anywhere. So, I just want to make sure I'm out here as much as possible and just soak it all in."
Hawk racked up 136 tackles this year from his weakside linebacker spot. He was asked if he exceeded his personal expectations.
"Coming into this year, I didn't really know what to expect," Hawk said. "I didn't really set a goal of how many tackles I'd like to have exactly. But, I think that's a number that hopefully I can come back next year and do better than that. I'd like to. I think every year you try and get better and Coach (Jim) Tressel always says you want to have your senior year your best. So, I just think I'm trying to raise the bar and make sure next year I come out and try and get more than that."
Looking ahead to next year, Ohio State will be stacked at linebacker. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel all return, and the Buckeyes will get Mike D'Andrea back from injury. In addition, Marcus Freeman is a young player everyone is excited about.
"It's tough," Hawk said with a grin. "It's going to be hard getting a lot of tackles next year with all of those guys. It seems like even this year it's a fight to get to the ball. We have so much talent going to make tackles with Schlegel, Bobby and the D-linemen, and even watching all of our safeties tackle. I mean, it's tough and that's what's fun about being on a defense like this. We're all a team and we don't care who gets the credit. We just want to be out there having fun and making plays."
But what will happen with the Schlegel and D'Andrea situation? Who will get the most time at MLB next year?
"I think they're going to find a way to get everyone on the field together," Hawk said. "Both of them are such great players, you can't afford to take them off the field, I think. We'll definitely figure something out because you can't have a guy like that sitting on the bench, I think."
Fox prides himself on being a physical cornerback and he's happy to be facing a running team like Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
"Finally get some tackles, maybe," Fox said. "I'm excited to be in some action and have some fun and make some tackles, hopefully.
"Some games, I go out there and maybe get two plays of action all game. So, it's not frustrating, but as a football player, you want to have some fun and get in on some plays at some point. So, I think I'll definitely have a lot of opportunities this game."
Just where does Fox rank Oklahoma State, compared with all of the other teams the Buckeyes have faced this year?
"Right at the top," he said.
Better than Michigan?
"I can't say that yet. But looking at them on film, they're different teams, but they're up there with Michigan. They can play with Michigan, definitely. They're what, three points away from being a BCS team? Really their only bad losses are to Texas Tech and Texas A&M."
Fox has played in a lot of big games over his career, but says it won't be difficult getting up for the Alamo Bowl. Not much is on the line except pride, but the players are happy to be going to San Antonio.
"Last year was a BCS bowl, but it was the Fiesta Bowl again," Fox said. "I think it's fun to have some change. Everyone is pretty positive about it. New city. Everyone seems excited."
Fox missed three games with a broken arm earlier this season, then was held out of the Purdue game with a groin pull. He admits the groin was bothering him against Michigan.
"A little bit, but not much," he said. "Enough that I could play."
After the bowl game, Fox will begin preparing for his NFL career.
"I'd be happy to be on any team, obviously," he said. "The goal right now is to get drafted on the first day. That's the goal. I think it's realistic. If I can just stay healthy and go out and have a good combine and have a good all-star game."
Fox will likely surprise a lot of people at the combine.
"I'll probably run at least a 4.4.," he said. "And vertical will be over 40, for sure"