Saturday Sept. 8, Noon
With just one bowl appearance in school history, the University of Akron is certainly not known for its football program. However, those taking the Zips lightly going into Saturday's game in the Horseshoe would be smart to instead have a measure of respect for the program put together by J.D. Brookhart.
The fourth-year coach with a 19-18 record has taken Akron to its only bowl appearance, a loss to Memphis in the 2005 Motor City Bowl, and won the '05 Mid-American Conference title with a last-second win over Northern Illinois. The offensive guru has brought the program to the doorstep of yearly prominence in the MAC.
Specifically this year, the cupboard is not bare for the team playing its home games in the Rubber Bowl. That is especially true on the defensive side of the ball, where Akron returns eight starters, including nearly its entire linebacking and defensive secondary units.
The two players to watch on the defense are big-play guys. He might be undersized at 5-11, 220 pounds, but "sam" linebacker Brion Stokes can do it all. Last year, the North Carolina native made 79 tackles, 15 of which came behind the line and 5½ of which were sacks. He added three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. His big play capabilities were further evidenced in the spring when he was part of a rash of scrimmage turnovers, then made three tackles for loss, a sack and forced a fumble in the season-opener against Army.
If the best player on the defense isn't Stokes, it is probably senior Reggie Corner. The aptly named cornerback has nine career interceptions, four of which came last year and one of which came against the Black Knights. For his work, he earned MAC East Division defensive player of the week honors.
Also returning as starters in the back eight are middle linebacker Kevin Grant, bandit Doug Williams, strong safety Chevin Pace, rover John Mackey, free safety Andre Jones and cornerback Davanzo Tate.
And notice the wording "back eight," instead of the traditional back seven employed by most teams. The Zips use a 3-3-5 defense that prefers to cover opposing receivers rather than rush the passer.
"Defensively they play a scheme that we haven't lined up and played against since the 2002 Outback Bowl, January 1, 2002," head coach Jim Tressel said of the game against South Carolina. "It's going to take good mental focus. We've got to make sure we don't have assignment problems."
Wide receiver Brian Robiskie didn't seem too concerned about facing the different formation.
"As we watch the film and as we break it down, our coaches will kind of gameplan around that," Robiskie said. "They'll put us in position to make some plays."
Last Week: Akron defeated Army 22-14 in the inaugural Patriot Bowl in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Freshman Igor Iveljic made field goals of 23, 32 and 38 yards, while Corner returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown and quarterback Chris Jacquemain found wideout Jabari Arthur for a 19-yard touchdown.
"Akron really decisively won the game against Army," Tressel said. "The score didn't necessarily show it ... but really, as you watch the entire film, Akron was in control from the get-go."
Walking The Line: The Buckeyes should have an edge at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Akron's offensive and defensive lines are inexperienced. On the offensive side, left guard Mike Ward and right tackle Corey Woods are redshirt freshmen, while right guard Zack Anderson is a sophomore. Center Mike Schepp is a senior but has been only a spot starter in his career heading into the season. Left tackle Chris Kemme is junior who played his high school football less than 10 minutes from Ohio Stadium at Upper Arlington and is an All-MAC performer.
On the defensive side, the three starting linemen had a combined 11 tackles in 2006. Junior Eric Lively is the most experienced member; he's joined by sophomore nose Wallace Pendleton and true freshman end Almondo Sewell. True freshman Shawn Lemon is also in the two-deep, although senior Jared Cecchetti could return early from a foot injury for the game.
Jacquemain Man: A sophomore from Mentor, Ohio, Jacquemain won the battle with athletic sophomore Carlton Jackson and true freshman Matt Rodgers to take over for record-setting quarterback Luke Getsy. He did not disappoint, completing 14 of 24 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Jackson, as planned, saw reserve duty and competed 3 of 5 passes for 29 yards.
"They both had nice camps and improved greatly," Brookhart said before the opener. "When we sat down to make that decision, we all felt we could win with both and they both exceeded my expectations. As we told them in the beginning, it came down to who we could trust the most to limit mistakes and errors. We felt most comfortable with Chris, and we don't want to give him a short leash. We want to give him an opportunity and not have him looking over his shoulder."
King Arthur: Akron's best player on the offensive side of the ball is Arthur, who enters the game sixth all-time on the school's reception list. In the opener, Arthur caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, and he's coming off a season in which he caught the ball 45 times for 730 yards and four touchdowns in '06. Arthur, a big target at 6-4, 225, enters the season as a second-team All-MAC selection.
Remember His Name: Buckeye fans probably do so when it comes to junior tailback Dennis Kennedy. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native signed a letter of intent for Ohio State in '04 but never attended the school an error at the NCAA Clearinghouse. He ended up at Akron and ran for nearly 1,000 yards a season ago.
Tuesday, Tressel was asked if he was disheartened by Kennedy's situation at OSU.
"You always want things to come out the way that people hope and – but I'm kind of a believer in what usually happens ends up being the best thing and he's had a wonderful career right where he is, and he's a good player," Tressel said.