Behind Enemy Lines: Akron

Nobody was quite sure what to expect in 1894 when John Heisman’s Akron Buchtel (now known as just Akron) made its way to take on The Ohio State Buckeyes at the Ohio State Fair. It would be the only game that the Buchtel football team would play that season and would be the only time Ohio State would lose to Akron, in one fashion or another, a 12-6 loss.

That Ohio State team would go on to play a total of 11 games, finish at 6-5 and end the season on a three-game winning streak with wins at Cincinnati, and at home against the 17th Regiment and Kenyon.

Since that lone loss, the Buckeyes would outscore Akron by a combined margin of 104-22 in the four games played since then. Ohio State holds an overall record of 7-1 against Akron and the two teams have not played in a decade, since a 42-0 win by the Buckeyes in Luke Fickell’s lone season as Ohio State’s head coach.

Since these two teams last played, Terry Bowden has come and gone and now it is in the hands of Tom Arth and things have not been kind to Akron since the start of that era in 2019, the Zips have gone 2-19 in three seasons and just 1-13 in the MAC.

Things are not going to get easier with Ohio State a 40-point plus favorite in this one and desperate for a convincing win after a slow start to the season.

We all have an idea of how this game is going to play out but that doesn’t mean we are not going behind enemy lines to find out more about the Zips. We join a longtime friend, George Thomas of the Akron Beacon-Journal to get a little bit more on Ohio State’s opponent.

BuckeyeScoop: What does Akron have to gain with playing this game except a payday from Ohio State?

George Thomas: Well, how about a really HUGE paycheck? Like every Group of 5 school, these are payday games, that being said, I think there’s a fundamental desire at play for any of these so-called smaller schools- respect. In many cases, a lot of these players were passed over by the larger schools or they could not crack the lineup at a P5 school, so they want to see that they belong.  As for the program, regardless of what happens, this is still Ohio State and it was going to get some national attention.  With it being on primetime on the Big Ten Network, that gives the players on UA’s side of the field a chance to show what they can do.

BuckeyeScoop: Ohio State has obviously had some issues on the defensive side of the ball and quarterback DJ Irons is a true dual threat at his position. Is there anything that Akron can take from Ohio State’s previous woes and look to exploit?

George Thomas: I guess that depends. There isn’t a lot of film available on Irons because he’s a junior college transfer.  He got in against Auburn and went 13-of-13 in mop-up duty when the game was way out of hand.  He struggled in relief when starter Kato Nelson went down in the first of against the Temple Owls and was sharp with a week of practice under his belt with the first unit.  Of what I’ve seen of Ohio State – and there hasn’t been a lot – that defense is currently the weakest link, especially in the front seven where they haven’t displayed a lot. Oregon ran at will and they were lucky to escape Minnesota with a win.

BuckeyeScoop: Many Ohio State fans are upset that this is a night game, what are the thoughts around the Akron fanbase? Is anyone upset or does anyone really have a strong opinion?

George Thomas: Trust me when I write that very few people in Akron truly care about this.  College football in Akron isn’t like that of Columbus of or any other top tier school. There are no traffic jams.  Parking’s easy to find.  There are very few tailgaters. That is what coach Tom Arth is trying to turnaround.  There are plenty of football fans in the area, but you also have to remember with UA being a Mid-American Conference school and there being four MAC schools in the state [Ohio, Toledo, BG and UA] that alumni is spread throughout the area and it dilutes the fanbase.  Additionally, the City of Akron at large doesn’t necessarily connect with the football team. That’s something the new athletic administration has targeted to change. Lastly, being about 45 minutes from Cleveland, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t think a Browns factor influences things.  Northeast Ohio has been and ever shall be dedicated to pro football and primarily the Browns.

BuckeyeScoop: 2017 is the last season that Akron finished above .500 in football, what is it going to take to work back up the MAC East standings?

George Thomas: The new administration needs to leave Tom Arth alone and give him time.  For all practical purposes, I consider this is second year as coach of the Zips.  Last year’s pandemic money grab for college football should have a huge freakin’ asterisk next to it.  Given the circumstances with COVID- and all of the contract tracing, testing, etc. holding any coach to any kind of standard regarding wins and losses is an egregious error. Arth will tell you the exact opposite, to hold him accountable.  It’s great that he feels that way.  He possesses integrity.  He also is, as a guy who played for Cleveland St. Ignatius and John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, is someone with the right connection and attitude to bring the talent necessary to compete in the MAC and turn the program around.

BuckeyeScoop: What does Ohio State get out of this game with an overmatched Akron team?

George Thomas: Better question for the writers down there, no?  The best thing the Buckeyes can take from this game is the opportunity to get that defense fixed against an opponent that may not provide a lot of offensive punch.  It should be an easy win and provide them the chance to get “right” for lack of a better term. (We asked George for a prediction on the game but he declined stating that he does not do predictions).