Zips Best Laid Plans Fall Short

Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart has developed a reputation for being a smart man, but his Zips, especially on offense, were no match for Ohio State Saturday. Find out what the Buckeyes did to short-circuit the Zips strategy during what was one of the best defensive performances in Ohio State history.

J.D. Brookhart is a smart guy.

The fourth-year Akron coach has proven that over the past few years. His school's media guide boasts about Brookhart's approach to running his program as a CEO would run a Fortune 500 company. At one point in his life, he was making six figures selling software. He took over a moribund Akron program and won the Mid-American Conference in his second year.

So there is little doubt that Brookhart knew he'd have to draw up a pretty good gameplan to hang with No. 12 Ohio State Saturday afternoon in Ohio Stadium, especially on the offensive side of the ball where he had to replace his starting quarterback and four linemen from 2006. The coach drew up a plan, made a few choices and … saw the whole concoction blow up in his face.

"We knew we were going to struggle," Brookhart said. "I don't know that we thought we'd struggle that badly."

How badly did the Zips' offense sputter? Very much so. His stop troops held the Zips to 69 total yards, only 3 of which came on the ground. Akron converted just 2 of 16 first downs, averaged 1.4 yards per play and had 13 straight drives end with three-and-outs. Punter John Stec's 14 boots were a school record.

Part of the struggles came from Akron's plan of trying to move the ball more horizontally than vertically. Copying some of the spread offenses in vogue that attempt to get the ball to athletic playmakers in space, the Zips ran numerous short screens and quick passes. As a result, their longest play went for just 16 yards, and only two plays went for 10 or more yards.

Brookhart said he didn't think his youthful offensive line, which started two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore, could hold off the Buckeye pass rush. He also was hoping to duplicate what Florida had used to dominate the Buckeye offense during the '07 BCS National Championship Game.

"We knew we wouldn't have a whole lot of time," Brookhart said. "We also felt that people have had success doing that against them, spreading them out. We took that from film study. We thought we would attack them that way and get them running and get them tired and have a chance in the fourth quarter to hit some holes and do some things."

"Most spread teams are doing that, trying to get your D-line running to the ball and running from sideline to sideline and tire them out," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "That's kind of the philosophy of the spread offense."

Where he was right was in his assumption that the Buckeyes would make sure his quarterbacks, sophomores Chris Jacquemain and Carlton Jackson, would leave with their jerseys if not dirty, but covered in the ubiquitous black rubber pellets that form the infill base in Ohio Stadium's new FieldTurf.

Ohio State made three sacks during the game, one each for James Laurinaitis, Cameron Heyward and Vernon Gholston. The Buckeyes added seven other tackles for loss.

The excellent numbers were aided by a Buckeye defense that was not afraid to blitz, especially in third-down situations, of which there were plenty for the Zips. Thaddeus Gibson, a redshirt freshman, also made his debut as a "Leo" type player who could drop back into coverage or rush the quarterback from the edge.

"It might have been," Heacock said when asked if his scheme was more aggressive than it was against Youngstown State. "I'm not sure until I see the film, but we thought we were probably about the same, maybe a little more."

For Brookhart, there wasn't much tinkering on the defensive side of the ball. A hot topic entering the game was Akron's defensive scheme, and the Zips used their base 3-3-5 defense throughout the game, a scheme in which linebackers and safeties swarm toward the line on rushing downs and blitzes are prevalent in order to create a rush on passing downs.

"It was a different scheme," offensive lineman Steve Rehring said. "They're always going to bring four, guaranteed, and you never know where that fourth guy is going to come from, so you know as the game went on we got a little better at it."

Linemate Kirk Barton refuted thought that the scheme gave the Buckeyes any trouble on a day in which the offense didn't impress.

"Not at all," he said. "We were able to read what they were doing all day, we just didn't execute when we needed to. That was our biggest problem. Our coaches were able to pick apart what they did. We were able to read their defense, where their blitzes were coming from, we just didn't execute the way we needed to."

On the Akron side, rover John Mackey, who nabbed one of two first-half interceptions from quarterback Todd Boeckman, countered by saying he thought he saw the Buckeye offense having trouble with the look Akron provided before the Zips tired in the second half because of being on the field for 72 total plays.

"It seemed like they were having trouble at first with what we were doing," Mackey said. "Then after that we weren't doing anything really different in the second half, we were just making way too many mistakes. It was mistakes, that's all it was."


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