COLUMBUS One, two, three, punt. One, two, three, punt. One, two, three, punt.
That was pretty much the Akron offense against No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday.
The Buckeyes' defense forced befuddled Akron to punt 14 times, including after 12 consecutive three-and-out series, and beat the Zips 20-2,
"We're young and inexperienced and we're playing against one of the better front sevens in the country," Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said. "We knew we'd struggle but not that badly."
The statistics were as weird as the final score.
Akron (1-1) managed just three first downs and 69 yards, including 3 on 19 rushing attempts. The Zips had two first downs the first time they had the ball, then didn't pick up another until late in the game while punter John Stec was putting his name in the record book.
Stec set a school record with his busy day, averaging 41 yards.
"I punted more than I did my entire senior season of high school," he said. "I think I punted 10 times that season."
The Buckeyes (2-0) won their 30th game in a row against in-state schools since losing 7-6 to Oberlin in 1921. But their offense turned the ball over five times and looked every bit as confused as the opposition did for much of the day.
"We can't leave our defense hanging out to dry," Ohio State lineman Kirk Barton said. "They were the supermen today. They bailed us out time after time. Offensively, we need to look in the mirror. We're not on the slope that we need to be on. We need to get better. It seems like we're either flatlining or getting worse."
The game was played, for the most part, in dry conditions although a brief first-half cloud burst did have an effect on the ragged offenses.
It was like the Snow Bowl with 80-degree temperatures. Back in 1950, a storm front blew in a few hours before the annual showdown with Michigan, bringing with it white-out conditions and temperatures around 10 degrees. Michigan's Chuck Ortman punted 24 times and Ohio State's Vic Janowicz who would win the Heisman Trophy a few weeks later had 21 punts, with a blocked punt recovered in the end zone leading to the Wolverines' 9-3 win.
The Buckeyes led Akron 3-2 at the half "At halftime we were like, what are we doing? What's going on?" Barton said before putting the game away on Brandon Saine's 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and Todd Boeckman's 13-yard scoring pass to Brian Robiskie in the fourth.
Ryan Pretorius kicked field goals of 37 and 33 yards. Chris "Beanie" Wells picked up a couple of big runs after the outcome was clear and finished with 143 yards on 20 carries.
That was just about all the offense contributed.
"Our defense was in command," said coach Jim Tressel, who calls the punt the most important play in football. "They were getting off the field in three and out consistently, creating good field position."
Carlton Jackson carried three times for 10 yards and was Akron's leading rusher. Three quarterbacks combined to hit on 17-of-32 passes without an interception.
After the Zips drove from their own 24 to the Ohio State 42 on their first possession, Stec's bouncing punt was downed at the 2. On first down, Wells went off right tackle but was pulled down by Brion Stokes. At first the officials marked the ball at the 1, but a video review showed his knee hit in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Akron lead.
The Buckeyes turned the ball over on two of their next three possessions. Boeckman, who completed 14-of-23 passes for 131 yards, threw interceptions to Reggie Corner and John Mackey.
In time, Ohio State wore the Zips down but still had a lot of problems. Brian Hartline fumbled away a punt return, Devon Torrence lost the ball after a reception and backup quarterback Rob Schoenhoft also lost a fumble.
Now the Buckeyes, who play at Washington on Saturday, must hope they've learned something from games against Akron and Youngstown State.
"The stakes are much higher as we get on the plane to head to Washington," Tressel said. "Hopefully the experience we've had in the first two games and [practice] this week will prepare us."
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