Heading into the 2010 season, it looked like Akron's defense would be
among the best in the Mid-American Conference. The Zips returned seven of its
top nine tacklers, among them all-MAC performers in safety Jalil Carter,
defensive tackle Almondo Sewell, freshman All-American linebacker
Brian Wagner and cornerback Manley Waller.
A lack of depth at wide receiver forced first year head coach Rob
Ianello to move the speedy Carter to wide receiver, but the Zips still have plenty
of returning talent and experience to field a competitive defensive in 2010.
Through five games, that defense has yet to live up to its pre-season potential,
as the Zips have been outscored, 199-84, in starting 0-5.
"We had several key breakdowns and counted 13 big plays against us for
328 yards," Ianello said in reference to Akron's 50-14 loss to
Northern Illinois. "We had some issues in coverage and we are going to
go back to work to eliminate the big plays and start doing a better job on
defense, but most of all making some big plays on offense as well."
The Zips have given up less than 30 points just once this season, a 29-3 loss
to Syracuse in the season-opener, and allow an average of 39.8 points per game.
Opposing offenses have had their way with the Zips, averaging 462.4 yards
per contest (281.4 passing, 181.0 rushing). The Zips have allowed 26 touchdowns
on the seasons.
Opponents have converted on 92-percent (23-of-25) red zone scoring opportunities
and 55-percent of their third down conversion attempts.
Akron has forced just six turnovers (three fumble recoveries and three interceptions)
and sacked opposing quarterbacks just seven times.
Akron has allowed opponents to rush for over 180 yards per game. That's
surprising considering the production of the Zips' front four. Defensive
ends Shawn Lemon and Hasan Hazime and tackles Almondo Sewell
and Dan Marcoux have combined for 78 tackles and 5 ½ of Akron's
seven team sacks.
Lemon has posted a position group-high 22 tackles and leads the team with
four tackles for loss and three sacks. Sewell has 21 stops, while Marcoux has
19 and Hazime has 16 tackles and 1 ½ sacks.
It seems the Akron front four is losing more one-on-one battles than it is
winning. It's pretty obvious why: the defensive line averages just 6-foot-2 ¾,
"Everybody on the front has to be better. I'd be naïve if
I didn't think that the defense doesn't have to improve as a whole,
and that's to a man at every position," Ianello said. "There's
parts of our defensive line at times of the game I really like some of the
things that they're doing and other times I wished they'd do a
little bit more."
While the Zips enter Saturday's game at 0-5 on the year, they likely
have the best group of linebackers in the conference.
linebacker Brian Wagner is among the top defenders in the Mid-American
In 2009, then a redshirt freshman, Brian Wagner, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound
sophomore, led the Zips with 132 tackles, including seven tackles for loss,
and also intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered two fumbles.
He recorded double-digit tackles in nine of the 12 games he played. A second-team
all-conference performer, Wagner was named to three separate All-American teams.
Through five games, Wagner's 48 tackles are tied for the team lead with
linebacker Mike Thomas. Wagner also has an interception and two pass
Thomas, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior strongside linebacker, leads the team
with 30 solo tackles and also has one tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries,
a pass break-up and he has recovered and forced a fumble.
Thomas has started 26 games in his Akron career.
Junior Matt Little lines up as Akron's Will, or weakside, linebacker.
He has recorded 17 tackles on the year.
Last season in a 28-20 win over Kent State, Wagner led both teams with 15
With just seven sacks and four quarterback hurries in five games, Akron's
opponents haven't felt much pressure in the passing game. That has allowed
Zips opponents to complete 67-percent (104-of-155) of their passes for 1,407
yards and 14 touchdowns.
Aside from Waller, a 5-foot-8, 158-pound junior cornerback, the Zips line
up a young secondary. True freshman ShelDon Miller and Anthony Holmes and sophomore Josh Richmond are projected to round out
Akron's free safeties have been very productive. Miller, the projected
starter, is third on the team with 24 stops and senior Doug Richardson is fourth with 23 stops, including 2 ½ for a loss and one sack. Both
Miller and Richardson suffered injuries against Northern Illinois, but are
probable for Saturday's game.
Richmond, the strong safety, has 18 tackles on the year.
At cornerback, it's a mixed bag.
The Zips have a veteran in Waller, who has started 14 of the 28 games in which
he's participated at Akron, and on the other side, the boundary corner,
two true freshmen and a redshirt freshman are listed on the depth chart.
"They've just got to grow, every week," said Ianello of
the young players that will see action in the secondary. "Our program's
got to grow every week and they have to grow every week."
Waller is sixth on the team with 21 tackles and he has one interception and
two pass break-ups.
Holmes, the projected started at boundary corner, has 14 tackles, with ½ tackle
Redshirt freshman Bill Alexander and true freshman Seth Cunningham also could see playing time at the boundary position. Alexander has nine tackles
while Cunningham has just one.
In last week's loss to Northern Illinois, Holmes recorded nine tackles
in his first career start.
"As we watch Anthony develop during the season we feel like he's athletic,
very explosive, and gives us some size at corner," Ianello said. "He
did a very nice job for his first start and I believe this young man is going
to continue to get better."
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