Akron Defensive Preview

AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli

The Zips defense, despite losing five starters, must build on the end-of-season improvement for Akron to move out of the rebuilding stages. Frye and Hendry lead an offense that should be very formidable. Here is a look at the Akron Zips defense heading into Saturday game. The Zips collide with the Knights Sept. 6 at Rubber Bowl. Akron rolled to an easy 45-14 victory at home over Cal-Poly last time out.

Akron defense struggled last season, ranking in the bottom half of Division IA programs in nearly all statistical categories.  The Zips, however, greatly improved throughout the 2002 campaign and also improved on the previous season.  Despite yielding over 500 yards of total offense three times this season, the Zips' defense has been more aggressive through the first seven games of this season than last year where they finished 8th in the MAC in total defense.  Akron has already collected five interceptions, 15 sacks (tied for fourth in the MAC), 55 tackles for loss and 10 forced fumbles.

Key Stats 

Category

National
Rank

Actual

Conf
Rank

Mid-American
Leader

Actual

Rushing Offense

48

160.00

6

Ohio

208.83

Passing Offense

8

323.29

4

Western Mich.

344.33

Total Offense

6

483.29

2

Bowling Green

518.33

Scoring Offense

13

37.29

3

Miami (Ohio)

39.00

Rushing Defense

69

156.57

6

Miami (Ohio)

111.50

Pass Efficiency Defense

55

119.26

6

Northern Ill.

107.12

Total Defense

80

386.00

9

Bowling Green

317.00

Scoring Defense

75

27.57

7

Bowling Green

15.0

Defensive Line Analysis:  Akron front four is much better this year.  Last season, they struggle immensely but they were still able to hold Marshall (win) and UCF (lost) below their scoring averages.  The D-line doesn't hold well against run-heavy offenses and their opponents tend to put up gaudy numbers against the undersized Zips.  It was evidence by Alex Haynes last year success running the ball against the Zips.  The Zips have two of four starters returning on the line which had just five sacks in 2002.  But don't be fool.  The best player on the D-line is 262-pound #86 senior defensive tackle Marques Hayes.  Through seven games, Hayes had 20 tackles and 16 were solo.  Also, Haynes had four tackles for loss along with 2.5 sacks so far this season.  Junior end Dwayne LeFall has two seasons as a starter under his belt, while sophomore Brian White will start at the other end.  # 6 LeFall has 19 tackles including 11 solo through seven games.  Nevertheless, he has 5.5 tackles for lost and 2.5 sacks on opponents.  LeFall's partner in crime, #48 White, had 17 tackles with 10 been solo through seven games.  White also had two sacks and five tackles for lost.

Linebackers Analysis:  The Zips best defensive player is #44 Chase Blackburn.  He will be making his second position change in as many years.  Last season Blackburn moved from defensive end to middle linebacker and recorded 96 tackles, 12 TFL and two sacks. The 243-pound junior will switch to weak-side linebacker so they could use him more as a pass rusher.  Chase Blackburn is the leader of the defense. At 6-3, Chase can cause a lot of problems for opposing quarterbacks. He also has the speed to run them down from behind.  Statistically, Blackburn leads the team with 60 tackles and 38 were solo.  Blackburn will be in the thick and thin of things on the field on Saturday.  The team's leading tackler also had 11 tackles for lost. Helping Blackburn tackling is LB Diontre Earl .  Earl is fourth with 49 stops and is tied for second on the squad.  Senior Matt Robinson and junior college transfer Jared Smith will compete for the strongside spot. The top reserves are junior Joe Radich at middle linebacker and sophomore Jay Rohr on the weakside.

Secondary Analysis:  Akron secondary is particularly tall, with all four starters standing six-foot or taller.  If there is a star among this group, it is 6-2 sophomore free safety Domenik Hixon.  Hixon started last year as a freshman in the fifth game.  He registered for 65 tackles which was good enough for fourth on the team.  He's bigger and better this year.  Hixon currently has 58 tackles including a team-best 45 solo stops.  Cornerback Rickie McKenzie (37 tackles, two interceptions) is a returning starter.  He's very dangerous and a threat for UCF QB.  McKenzie leads the Zips with three interceptions and five breakups.  Fellow senior Jesse Smith will start opposite McKenzie.  SS John Fuller posted a career-high 14 tackles at Buffalo (Sept. 27) and followed that performance up with 12 stops at Miami (Oct. 4). He is now third on the team in tackles with 56.  The top reserves are cornerbacks junior Montae Russell and redshirt freshman Mike Bradshaw; strong safety Jason Nedd a sophomore and junior free safety Greg Williams, who started five games at corner last season. 

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