This weekend I had the opportunity to sit down with Akron blogger Mike Rasor. Mike is a senior at the University of Akron majoring in communications with a political science minor. Mike has written on business for the Akron Beacon Journal in addition to covering sports for the Indianapolis Star. Currently he is the editor in chief for the Buchtelite, the Akron student paper. He is employed by the university to run a blog called Rasor on the Zips for the Akron Beacon Journal.
Rasor: Thanks for having me, Mike. Truth is, a lot of last season was luck. Anyone who watched the team from the beginning would tell you that the team was not that great. They lost 20-0 to a winless Army team. Central Michigan came in and beat the Zips at the Rubber Bowl, too. This year, though, everyone expected the Zips to be really good. Coach J.D. Brookhart's three outstanding recruiting classes are beginning to mature. Keeping the MAC's best quarterback in Luke Getsy should make 2006 a lot better than 2005 -- although last year was really magical. I expect about nine wins and a decent bowl game.
BSD: Getsy is a heck of a player. 3400 yards and 23 touchdowns is no small feat no matter what your conference is. But a lot of his skill players like Biggs, Hixon, and Montgomery are gone now. Who is going to step up and fill those positions this year?
Rasor: Domenik Hixon (WR, 79 rec, 1210 yds, 8 TD) was one of the nation's most underrated players. Brett Biggs (RB, 1339 yds, 10 TD) was pretty good. Like I said, Brookhart's recruiting classes have matched some Big 10 teams the past few years, PSU not included. So when Hixon left, a talented, yet unproven, crew of wide receivers stepped in. When Biggs left, Dennis Kennedy took over. Kennedy has some serious star potential. He was an Ohio State recruit with speed and power.
BSD: The last time Akron came into Beaver Stadium they didn't do so well. The final score was 48-10. Do you think the size of the stadium and crowd was an intimidating factor in that game?
Rasor: I suppose that is possible. I think the bigger factor was talent. Outside of Charlie Frye, Akron lacked the athleticism. It was also Brookhart's first game as coach. His complicated defensive scheme has taken a while to pick up. His offense also took a while for the players to adjust to.
BSD: I've read that Akron utilizes a 3-3-5 defense. That may work great in a passing league, but in the Big Ten where things tend to be four yards and a cloud of dust, are you concerned about a big physical team like Penn State running over the Akron defense?
Rasor: Good running teams tend to have their way with the Zips defense. Akron didn't have a clue against Garrett Wolfe in the MAC Championship or DeAngelo Williams in the Motor City Bowl. A lot of that should be attributed to the 3-3-5, which is designed to stop teams in a passing conference. The 3-3-5 also tends to confuse quarterbacks, particularly inexperienced ones. So that will be something to watch with Anthony Morelli making his first start for Penn State.
Heck, the 3-3-5 confuses journalists, too. Last week, about five of us sat around trying to figure out exactly what's going on. We used play diagrams. Dry-erase boards. The works.
BSD: I'm curious to see it myself. I've never seen a 3-3-5 in action before.
There probably isn't a Penn State fan alive that could name a single player on your defense. That includes myself until I picked up a copy of Phil Steele. Who are some players on your defense that will have Penn State fans asking "Who is that kid?" as they fumble through their programs?
Rasor: The secondary is probably the most solid part of the team. You might see some big plays from Jermaine Reid. He is a defensive end from Canada who led the team in sacks last year. He really is a beast. You might also watch Nate Robinson, a defensive tackle. When he came out of high school two years ago, major recruiting publications named him the nation's best player at the position. He committed to the University of Miami (Fla.), then transferred to Rutgers and wound up at Akron. Grades and motivation have been a problem, it seems. Kiki Gonzalez is the defense's anchor.
Oh, and I almost forgot about Kevin Grant. As our sports editor told me last week, he is the real deal. He was a Freshman All-American last year. He plays the bandit position, which is a linebacker-safety hybrid. That puts him in position to make a lot of plays.
BSD: Great. One last question. Finish this sentence: If Akron is going to win this game, they have to...
Rasor: have everything go right. They can't turn the ball over. They must avoid penalties. They have to force a lot of turnovers. Akron is a good team, but the talent level does not match Penn State. Factor in the huge crowd and you're thinking a touchdown loss isn't that bad.
I'll put it this way, Akron will do better than experts expect, but most reasonable Zips fans want to see Akron compete well and leave without major injuries.
The games they really need to focus on are at Central Michigan and N.C. State. Those are much more winnable than this Saturday's game.
BSD: Thanks so much for your time, Mike. I don't know about you, but the 2006 college football season has been too long in coming. I'm ready to get it on. I hope you guys have a successful year...after the 2nd of course.
Rasor: Hah. Thanks. I wish Penn State the best of luck after this game. Hopefully your fans will be kind to the Zips on Saturday.
Mike did a little interview session with me as well. You can read that exchange on his blog.