COLUMBUS — “Safety First” may be a great motto in the industrial world but certainly not at Ohio Stadium.
That’s what happened Saturday as the Ohio State Buckeyes slept-walked through an anemic first half — at least offensively — before pulling away for a 20-2 victory over Akron in front of 104,317 at the Horseshoe. Ohio State is 2-0 and headed to Seattle next week to play Washington’s Huskies. Akron, after opening in Cleveland last week with a win over Army, is now 1-1.
When tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells slipped trying to get out of his own end zone — and after review from the instant replay from the officials upstairs was found to be short of escaping — the Buckeyes had to wonder what kind of day it would be. The Buckeye offense produced just a field goal in the first half and barely over 100 yards total by intermission to lead by a baseball-like 3-2 score. Quarterback Todd Boeckman, after a decent opening day last week, had just 44 yards passing at halftime Saturday with two picks, and Chris Wells netted just 47 yards on the ground.
Thankfully, the Buckeye defense didn’t oversleep. Akron’s John Stec set a school record of sorts for futility by punting 14 times as the Zips lived up to their nickname by nearly blanking in the first-down department. Akron had just three first downs all day — only one in the second half and had a baker’s-dozen 3-and-outs in succession at one point. The Zips rushing total was an anemic three yards and they added only 66 yards through the air. Akron’s best possession of the day was its first — 29 yards and two first downs. From there it was like a scene out of Zigfeld’s Follies — 1-2-3-kick, 1-2-3 kick.
“Our defense dictated the tempo of the entire football game,” said OSU coach Jim Tressel. “Akron did a nice job on a couple special teams plays early dropping us in there on our own two and earning a safety but as the game took fold, regardless of anything, our defense was in command and did an excellent job. I’m sure we held them under 100 yards (69 total) and they were getting off the field in three-and-out consistently.”
“Our job on defense is to shut ’em down as much as possible,” said junior defensive end Vernon Gholston. “We didn’t get any turnovers on defense, so contribute some of (the offensive) problems to us.”
In the second half, Ohio State’s offense put together a couple scoring drives to overcome an unacceptable five turnovers – three lost fumbles and two interceptions.
“Offensively, we can’t turn the ball over,” said Tressel. “We’ve got to execute better than we did throughout the course of the game.”
“We can’t leave our defense hanging out to dry,” said offensive right tackle Kirk Barton. “They bailed us out time after time. We’re not on the slope we need to be on. We need to get better everyday and it seems like we’re either flat-lining or getting worse.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Boeckman. “That first half we were sluggish. We came out the second half firing a little bit.”
Ohio State never got untracked on the offensive side in the first half. It started the game going zero yards on the ground and 0-for-2 passing. Akron picked up its only first-half first downs on its first possession but punted after stalling at the OSU-42. The Zips didn’t pick up another first down until only five minutes remained in the game and the Buckeyes safely in front by the final count.
After Stec’s first punt was downed inside the five, Wells slipped at the goal line but was marked down just inside the one. However, after reviewing the replay, Akron was awarded the safety – it’s first since 2001 against Bowling Green.
Ohio State didn’t take the lead until Ryan Pretorius connected from 37-yards on a field goal with 4:17 left in the first half. That opportunity was set up by the defense after Boeckman’s second interception gave Akron the ball at its own 16-yard line. The Zips gained only three yards and Stec’s punt was fielded on a fair catch by Brian Robiskie at his own 34. A nine-yard reverse by Brian Hartline and a 15-yard face mask penalty on Wells’ short run put the Buckeyes in Akron territory but Boeckman misfired on three passing attempts after hooking up with Robiskie at the A-20.
Pretorius added a second field goal a little more than four minutes into the third quarter and Boeckman managed to escape Akron’s rush to find Brandon Saine on a 6-yard TD pass to cap OSU’s next possession to give the Buckeyes a more comfortable 13-2 lead. Ohio State sealed matters when Wells had back-to-back runs of 25 and 40 yards early in the final quarter and Boeckman hit Robiskie from 13 yards for the final score.
For the day, Wells’ numbers appeared pretty good and in fact were career highs – 143 yards on 20 carries – but take away his two fourth-quarter bursts and the total dwindles to just 78. Boeckman finished with 131 yards through the air with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Eight different Buckeyes caught passes led by Hartline’s six catches and Robiskie’s 82 yards.
“I thought (Wells) did a much better job on that (last) drive keeping his shoulders square,” Tressel said. “I wasn’t sure in the first half from a technique standpoint he was a good as he’s capable of being.
“Our biggest problem is we turned it over. I think the field position was something that made us less than comfortable. We had a little bit of a downpour (rain) that didn’t make it easy.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.