After the controversy over whether Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson would or would not be disciplined for possibly breaking curfew had settled into the Fiesta Bowl, it was Ohio State that rendered the most decisive judgment of the day.
Combining all the elements that characterize the Jim Tressel era, the seventhranked Buckeyes ended No. 8 Kansas State’s seven-game winning streak with a 35-28 victory before 73,425 fans Friday at Sun Devil Stadium.
In his final game, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel threw four touchdown passes against a Kansas State secondary that ranked eighth nationally against the pass.
Ohio State’s defense set up one of Krenzel’s TD tosses and the kicking game contributed with a blocked punt. During Ohio State’s two-year run of a national championship and Big Ten runner-up, defense, special teams and an offense that functions off the tone of the game have characterized Tressel’s Buckeyes, who won last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
With the victory, the Buckeyes (11-2) could finish in the top five after No. 5 Texas and No. 6 Tennessee lost their bowl games to Washington State and Clemson, respectively.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder decided not to discipline Roberson after the school’s investigation determined Roberson had not committed a criminal act, though Paradise Valley police had talked with him after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her. The senior from Baytown, Texas, jogged onto the field for the opening series, hearing cheers from Kansas State fans and boos from Ohio State partisans.
Whether it was the distraction of more 24 hours of speculation concerning Roberson or inactivity since the first week of December, Kansas State’s offense wasn’t sharp.
Of course a lot of that also had to do with the Buckeyes’ defense.
"I think they underestimated our speed on defense," said Will Smith, the Ohio State All-American defensive end.
Ohio State’s defense, ranked first in run defense and ninth overall, lived up to its billing, reducing Kansas State’s potent optionbased offense to dropback passing, which isn’t Roberson’s strength.
Snyder made a second half adjustment of rolling Roberson to either side to buy more time, but Roberson was inaccurate on his long and medium-range throws. He finished 20-of-52 for 294 yards.
All-American running back Darren Sproles needed only 52 yards to reach 2,000 but the speedy, sure-tackling Ohio State defense, led by sophomore linebacker A.J. Hawk —named defensive player of the game — limited him 38 yards on 13 carries.
"The key for us was not trying to get a big hit, just trying to take him down," said defensive tackle Tim Anderson, a strategy the team learned watching films of the KState-Oklahoma game. "We worked on wrapping up."
Kansas State, which had averaged 505 yards and 36 points in its last four games, had just 14 points and 180 yards through three quarters.
Forced to abandon the run and playing no-huddle, Kansas State piled up 198 yards, much of it against prevent defense.
Kansas State (11-4) had one last chance to win or tie the game, taking over at its 10 with 1:12 left. The Wildcats reached the Buckeyes’ 48 with 9 seconds remaining.
Roberson’s Hail Mary throw was batted away by 6-foot-3 sophomore Nate Salley on the final play.
The TD toss to Jenkins was critical one for the Buckeyes, who responded to Kansas State taking the second half kickoff for a touchdown by marching 74 yards in 10 plays.
Ohio State extended a 21-7 halftime lead to 35-14 after three quarters with Krenzel throwing TD passes of 8 and 31 yards to Michael Jenkins and Santonio Holmes, respectively. "We had a few new wrinkles for the game," said Krenzel, the offensive player of the game. Kansas State was off kilter from the start. Roberson threw high, wide, and away from open receivers. "I don’t think his head was in the game in the first half," Smith said. In their first five series, the Wildcats totaled 10 yards. Roberson was 5-of-20 for 60 yards with an interception.
Ohio State built its lead with its standard methods — defense, the kicking game and opportunism.
On Kansas State’s third possession, Ohio State’s Harlen Jacobs blocked a punt that John Hollins picked up at the Kansas State 7 and ran into the end zone.
Ohio State cashed in good field position at the Kansas State 43 with a touchdown drive that took six plays. Krenzel passed 6 yards to redshirt freshman Holmes for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Krenzel threw an end zone interception but the defense made up for the error when Chris Gamble intercepted a pass at the Kansas State 17. On the next play, Krenzel hit Jenkins for a 21-0 lead.
The deficit proved too steep for the Wildcats to overcome.