One would think a coordinator who crafted a defense that had just allowed 69 total yards would have been in pretty high spirits, but that was not the case after the Buckeyes' 20-2 defeat of Akron Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
"We're probably not as good as we looked," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said after the Zips' offense gained three first downs, advanced on its own into Ohio State territory once in the game's first five minutes and never again thereafter.
Akron traveled 34 yards on its opening drive, picking up a pair of first downs before being forced to punt from the Ohio State 42-yard line.
None of the Zips' subsequent drives gained more than nine yards, they suffered through 13 three-and-outs in a row and at one time failed to convert 14 consecutive third down opportunities. But even preventing the opposition from gaining more than 1.4 yards per play was not enough to bring a smile to the face of Heacock.
"I think it's a little step. I don't view it as a big step," he said. "I think we made progress. I think we improved in a lot of different areas. I think as we watch the film we'll see we need to continue (to improve) in a lot of different areas. We're going to play some great offenses and that's a nice win and some improvement but we've got a long way to go before we're where we need to be."
The coach's trepidation stemmed partly from the fact Akron played two sophomore quarterbacks with no appreciable game experience and a line that included a sophomore, two redshirt freshmen, a junior and one senior.
While he liked the increased pressure on the quarterback – including three sacks – and thought the team played with more intensity than a week earlier against Youngstown State, Heacock said the level of competition will only be increasing in future weeks.
But lest anyone think the coach was just being overly hard on his pupils, consider many of them were on message as well.
Linebacker Ross Homan shrugged off the baker's dozen of three-and-outs, saying that is merely the result they always strive to achieve.
"We wanted to go out every time with tenacity and knowing that we'd be out in three plays," he said.
End Vernon Gholston had a similar take.
"I really didn't pay attention to it when I was out there," he said. "Our job was to pay attention to it whether we got a turnover or just doing what we do best: flying around and making plays. For the most part, I just attribute a lot of it to having confidence to go out there and do our jobs. I'm pretty sure we didn't have too many mental mistakes this week."
The obvious department in which the Buckeyes can improve is forcing turnovers. Though a streak of 16 consecutive quarters without a takeaway came to an end when Jamario O'Neal forced and recovered a fumble with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Ohio State still had just one takeaway in four games dating back to the start of the Michigan contest in 2006.
"When it comes down to it, whatever our game plan is, it's perfecting whatever it is we choose to do, and forcing turnovers," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said.
"If we play with the emotion we played with today and start forcing turnovers, the sky is the limit for us."
Heacock reiterated the importance of taking the ball away, something his defense did well last season but not in 2005.
"We had one today and we had a chance for two more at least," he said. "We've got to get turnovers. You're not going to win in this league and you're not going to win nationally if you don't get turnovers.
"I think the potential is really good," he said of his defense. "I really think the potential's there. I hope this group can handle some success because we all know you have to handle failure and you have to handle success. I hope this group realizes that was a young quarterback and a young offensive line that we faced. Very well coached, but they were young. I don't want to get too carried away with the victory. It was a nice victory and I think we got a little bit better today. That's about as far as I'd take it."