Little backs fuel Texas A&M's potent ground attack
Posted: Tuesday December 29, 1998 05:49 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- If you like your running backs to fall into the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust category, Texas A&M's Sirr Parker's not your guy.
He's too slippery to stir up much dust.
"He's so fast he's hard to get a hand on," said Ohio State linebacker Na'il Diggs. "But you better get a hand on him. If you don't, he's gone in a heartbeat."
Add Dante Hall to the Aggies' backfield, and you have a quick challenge to the Buckeyes' dominating run defense for the Sugar Bowl on Friday.
The two don't give A&M the bruising attack that Ohio State has shut down so often. In fact, Hall admits he struggles to make 190 pounds, and Parker claims to be 195. But at 5-foot-8 and 5-7 respectively, they stand tall in the A&M game plan.
"Our offense is to run first, pass second," offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe said. "We hope to run the ball and control the game. That's been our style all year."
Stopping the run has been No. 3 Ohio State's style. The Buckeyes have the best defense in the nation against the run, allowing just 67.4 yards per game.
Facing No. 8 A&M, Ohio State will have a different challenge, however.
"We're kind of use to seeing more burly-type guys," Diggs said. "They're more the quick, scatty guys. Maybe a little more talent than we've seen. For sure as much speed as we've seen."
Parker, who clocked at 4.24 in the 40-yard dash last spring, is the fastest Aggie player ever. He's shaken off injuries that plagued him earlier in the season. And, as he showed when he caught a 32-yard touchdown pass to propel A&M past Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, he can do more than run.
"If I would have done this over again at the start of his career, I would have put him at wide receiver," Aggies coach R.C. Slocum said. 'He has the best hands of anybody on our team.
"I have told the NFL guys to look at him as a receiver. He can catch and then can run after he makes the catch. We can create mismatches with him when he lines up at tailback."
Against what A&M calls the "best secondary in the country," having Parker matched up against a safety or linebacker can give the Aggies an edge.
"I think I'm more of a threat than a regular receiver," Parker said. "Because when I catch the ball I'm a receiver, but after I catch it, I'm a running back again with a running backs moves and mentality."
Hall has been the Aggies' workhorse, carrying the ball for more than 20 times in six games. He averaged 5.6 yards every time he put his hand on the football this season and gained 1,024 yards.
"We can't let him have the tiniest crease," Ohio State cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "You give him gone and you're looking at him in the back field."
Hall concedes he's not going to run over anyone Friday night. But he said it doesn't take much for him to slip past them or between them.
"I like a little alley to run through," Hall said. "It doesn't have to be a big one, but at my size I'm not going to win many times if I try to run over guys."
The job of opening those alleys belongs to freshman fullback Ja'Mar Toombs, nicknamed "Big Rumble," the 260-pound blocker for A&M, and an offensive line that averages 300 pounds a player.
"I love those big guys," Hall said. "Sirr and I just hide behind them until they get us a little opening. Then you put on the speed and see what happens."
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