Saturday, Sept. 3
Noon ET, ESPN
Ohio Stadium; Columbus
Head coach: Rob Ianello, second year, 1-11
2009 record: 1-11 (1-7, 5th Mid-American Conference East)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 6-1
School location: Akron, Ohio
Colors: Blue and Gold
Stadium: InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field
Fight song: "Akron Blue and Gold"
The Zips come into Ohio Stadium looking to at the very least springboard into a much more successful campaign than the one they had in 2010.
A year ago in Rob Ianello's first year, the Zips went 1-11, salving the year only with a 22-14 home win against Buffalo in the season's final game. Akron lost its first nine games by an average of more than 25 points, including a home loss to Division I-AA foe Gardner-Webb.
"We played our best football at the end of the season and steadily improved as a program," Ianello said. "Sometimes when you don't go through a successful season, you maybe play well at the beginning of the season and don't improve. We were the reverse. We played really well at the end of the year. I liked how we competed. I liked how we improved.
"That's a credit to our coaches and a credit to our players for staying the course and believing in the process. Transition is difficult, and it's a credit to our upperclassmen, our juniors and seniors, that they hung in there with the transition and did what was best for the University of Akron and Akron football. They should be complimented on that."
Now, the Zips return only five starters on offense and eight on defense, and the team has been picked to finish last in the MAC East and chosen as the worst team in Division I-A by Phil Steele. However, Ianello feels the progress made a year ago is continuing and that the Zips can surprise some people.
"I like our progress," he said during fall camp. "I like our attitude. I like our bounce in our step. I like our demeanor of our team. We're starting to come together and jell like teams need to do to have successful seasons, so we're definitely pointed in the right direction."
The 2011 season will start on a difficult note in Ohio Stadium against the ranked and ready Buckeyes, but Ianello is looking forward to the experience.
"There's not going to be an ease into the season, which some programs get a chance to do," Ianello said. "But this will be great. We'll be playing on a national stage in the first game. Most of our roster is young men from the state of Ohio. It's going to give us a real opportunity to go in there and lay it all out there. I know our players are excited."
Ohio State's Jacob Stoneburner said the Buckeyes aren't looking past the Zips.
"They didn't have a great year, but they have a great coach right now," the tight end said. "I'm sure they're pretty determined to go out there and show the world they can compete with the big boys. We can't look at their record because this is a brand new year."
Offense In A Nutshell
Akron had one of the worst offenses in the country last year, finishing third to last in the nation in scoring (15.6 points per game) and second to last in yardage.
The Zips will have a new signal caller under center, however. Junior Patrick Nicely, who camped at Ohio State during the recruiting process, has started the last 19 games but lost a fall camp battle to sophomore Clayton Moore. A former Ole Miss recruit, Moore accounted for 29 touchdowns last year at the JUCO level and can make plays with both his arm and legs. Nicely is more of a pocket passer who threw for 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last year.
The Zips lost their two main rushers from last year but like the progress of sophomore Broderick Alexander and redshirt freshman Jawon Chisholm. Alexander ran for 198 yards in 2009 before missing last year with an injury while Chisholm was an outstanding prep back and has explosive tendencies.
At wideout, the top returning player is sophomore Antoine Russell, who caught 13 passes in 2010 for 221 yards and a score. Junior Anthony Meriwether worked on reshaping his body this offseason and sophomore Keith Sconiers is also making a bid for a starting role, but Akron is particularly excited about junior Marquelo Suel, a former Indiana commit who ended up at Akron after going the JUCO route. The tight end position is shared by Rhyne Ladrach, who caught three passes last year, and converted linebacker Will Fleming.
The offensive line is experienced. Right tackle Jake Anderson has started 24 straight games, and he's joined on the line by senior starters Zac Kasparek (right guard) and Paul Simkovich (left guard). Center Adam Bice was a highly touted recruit who is coming back from injury, while sophomore Jarrod Pughsley beat out junior Mitch Straight at left tackle.
"They have a lot of weapons on offense," OSU's Johnny Simon said. "They're a very good offense. They've got a lot of linemen back who have seen game experience. They've got a great quarterback starting for them. You know, they have so many weapons, we'll have to defend them all."
QB 8 Clayton Moore, 6-1, 209
RB 2 Broderick Alexander, 6-1, 221
FB 1 Nick Rossi, 6-0, 231
WR 81 Anthony Meriwether, 6-1, 199 OR 15 Jerrod Dillard, 6-4, 199
WR 35 Keith Sconiers, 6-1, 185
TE 84 Rhyne Ladrach, 6-5, 247 OR 18 Will Fleming, 6-4, 240
LT 76 Jarrod Pughsley, 6-4, 290
LG 70 Paul Simkovich, 6-3, 293
C 65 Adam Bice, 6-4, 287
RG 72 Zac Kasparek, 6-5, 308
RT 73 Jake Anderson, 6-6, 305
PK 13 T.J. Marchese, 5-11, 189
KOR 33 Josh Richmond, 5-11, 190 AND 39 Antoine Russell, 5-11, 193
Defense In A Nutshell
Former Minnesota defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove takes over, and the Buckeyes say they expect lots of blitzing from the Zips come Saturday based on what Cosgrove called when he was with the Golden Gophers.
"They have a new coordinator," OSU center Michael Brewster said. "He's form Minnesota so we've been watching a lot of Minnesota film. You just really don't know what you're going to get so we're just trying to be prepared for everything and we'll try to adjust on Saturday."
The strength of the Zips defense is the defensive line. The top three tackles – Dan Marcoux, who made 45 tackles last year, Michigan State transfer Oren Wilson and talented reserve James Harvey – are all seniors. End Hasan Hazime made 46 tackles last year, while sophomore Nico Caponi was an all-state choice at Sandusky Perkins and played some as a freshman last year.
The defense's best player is likely middle linebacker Brian Wagner, a second-team All-MAC choice as a freshman in 2009 who followed that with a team-high 130 tackles last year. He is on the watch list for the Nagurski Award, which goes to the best defensive player in the nation. Sheldon Miller starts at Will and made 28 tackles last year, while strongside LB Troy Gilmer is a Huber Heights Wayne product.
Senior Manley Waller leads the secondary, and he had 52 tackles – 43 of which were solo stops – to go with two picks last year. He's the son of 1992 Olympic 200-meter gold medalist Gwen Torrence. Junior Emmanuel Lartey moves into a starting role on the other side, while junior Josh Richmond made 49 stops last year and returns at strong safety. The new free safety is redshirt freshman L.T. Smith, who like OSU's Chris Fields is from Painesville, Ohio.
DE 58 Nico Caponi, 6-2, 266
DT 60 Dan Marcoux, 6-3, 275 OR 97 James Harvey, 6-4, 284
DT 80 Oren Wilson, 6-3, 295 OR 97 James Harvey, 6-4, 284
DE 96 Hasan Hazime, 6-5, 270 OR 56 Isaiah Williams, 6-3, 271
WLB 32 ShelDon Miller, 6-0, 210
MLB 34 Brian Wagner, 6-0, 235
SLB 5 Troy Gilmer, 6-1, 233
FCB 6 Manley Waller, 5-8, 170
FS 30 L.T. Smith, 6-0, 199
SS 33 Josh Richmond, 5-11, 190
BCB 31 Emmanuel Lartey, 5-11, 181
P 8 Zack Campbell, 6-2, 198
PR 3 A.J. Price, 6-4, 195
Five Fast Facts
1. Akron's football coaching staff has some notable names. Offensive coordinator John Latina worked under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame while Cosgrove has also coordinated defenses at Nebraska and Wisconsin. Offensive line coach Mitch Browning previous was once the offensive coordinator at Minnesota, while wideouts coach Frisman Jackson played for the Cleveland Browns from 2002-05. Special teams coach/safeties coach Vince Okruch formerly was the defensive coordinator at Northwestern and Illinois, while quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus played and coached at Notre Dame.
2. The Zips have 42 Ohioans listed on their roster. Cornerback Bruce Cheek (Olentangy Lewis Center), linebacker Blake Fraley (Hilliard Darby), kicker T.J. Marchese (Dublin Coffman), defensive back Carl Washington (Columbus Eastmoor) and linebacker Jamar Williams (Westerville South) all prepped in the Columbus area.
3. Starting safety and kickoff returner Josh Richmond is the cousin of former NBA All-Star Mitch Richmond.
4. Akron is the only team currently in the MAC to have beaten Ohio State, doing so in 1894 under the tutelage of coach and QB John Heisman. After an Ohio State win in 1895, the teams didn't play for more than a century before the Buckeyes opened the Jim Tressel era in 2001 vs. the Zips. Akron has faced a Big Ten team in each of the last nine seasons and is 1-22 all-time vs. members of the loop.
5. Akron's lone victory in 22 tries against ranked foes at the Division I-AA level came in 2002, when the Zips beat No. 25 Marshall at the Rubber Bowl by a 34-20 final. That was the game Marshall QB Byron Leftwich was famously carried down the field by his offensive linemen after suffering a leg injury..
Last Time Out
Defense carried the day on Sept. 8, 2007, as Ohio State downed Akron, 20-2, at Ohio Stadium.
While the Buckeyes' defense dominated, allowing only 69 yards of total offense to the Zips, Ohio State's offense sputtered. As usual, senior offensive lineman Kirk Barton summed up the afternoon when he and junior linebacker Marcus Freeman emerged to address the media. Neither was sure which would go first until the senior spoke.
"It's all you man," Barton said, gesturing to Freeman. "You carried us."
Ohio State's offensive line struggled for a second consecutive week and the Buckeyes turned the ball over five times – three fumbles, two interceptions by junior quarterback Todd Boeckman – and held a narrow 3-2 lead after a humid and rainy first half.
"Offensively, I don't know that you could statistically prove that we grew," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "On the other hand, perhaps Akron's defense was better than Youngstown's. (That is) up for debate, but we certainly did not improve in the turnover department. This week we had five of them, which you can't win games typically if you turn it over."
The Zips scored the game's first points. After Akron's John Stec had a punt downed on the OSU 2-yard line, the Zips stopped tailback Chris Wells in the end zone for a safety on the first play of Ohio State's second offensive series.
Ohio State managed only 115 yards of total offense in the first half but did take the lead on a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Pretorius in the second quarter. The Buckeyes took control after halftime, scoring two touchdowns and running the ball more efficiently as Wells ran for 96 of his then-career-best 143 yards in the second half.
That included 71 yards on back-to-back carries during Ohio State's second touchdown drive.
"It was frustrating, so frustrating, just because you know we can be such a good football team," said Wells, who finished with 20 carries. "I was feeling it late in the game. I feel as if the later in the game, the better I was doing."
Ohio State's second-half points came on a 33-yard Pretorius field goal and a 6-yard touchdown reception by Brandon Saine in the third quarter and a 13-yard TD catch by Brian Robiskie in the fourth quarter.
While Wells impressed, Boeckman did not. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 131 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Boeckman gave way to backup Robby Schoenhoft for parts of the second half, and Schoenhoft completed 6 of 8 passes for 36 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the OSU defense dominated. The Buckeyes forced 13 consecutive three-and-out possessions, forced Stec to punt a school-record 14 times and held the Zips to three first downs – two on their first drive.
Akron rushed for only 3 net yards and had 0 yards of total offense between the second and third quarters.
"This is one of the best defenses we will ever see," said Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart. "I knew it was going to be a struggle; I just didn't think it was going to be this much of a struggle. Ohio State's front seven is the best I have ever seen."
Despite the win, Barton was apologetic afterwards.
"We just can't have it," Barton said. "We put our defense in bad situations with five turnovers. We can't leave our defense hanging out to dry. They were the supermen today. They just bailed us out time after time.
"Offensively we need to look in the mirror because we're not on the slope that we need to be on. We need to be getting better every day, and it seems like we're either flat-lining or getting worse. As seniors … we're not happy with what's going on right now."