Two defenses showed up for the University of Akron on Saturday afternoon during their homecoming game against Mid-American Conference rival Bowling Green.
The dominating one shut out the Falcons in the first half of the Zips’ 24-10 loss Saturday at InfoCision Stadium. The other? It conjured none-too-distant memories of the one that gave up more than 1,300 combined yards and more than 100 combined points in losses to Tennessee and Miami.
By the time the second-half carnage ended, the Zips’ defense had surrendered more than 200 yards rushing after giving up just 66 in the first and a 10-0 lead. In all, the Falcons gained 322 yards in the last two quarters to help derail the Zips’ upset hopes.
The Zips were short-handed on defense, announcing before the game that they’d lost starting defensive end Albert Presley to a fractured fibula, but they endured that.
The problems didn’t arise until defensive tackle Nico Caponi, a run stuffer, left the game in the first half with a sprained right ankle.
The Zips had momentum at halftime after Robert Stein kicked a field goal as time ticked away, but the Falcons came out of the locker room with the resolve and the mettle to back it up.
On their first possession of the half, the Falcons marched down the field for a touchdown on a seven-play, 78-yard drive with all but 12 of the yards gained on the ground.
It would foreshadow the rest of the afternoon.
“At halftime, I think they got in there and looked at their size and our size and [decided] to run the ball continuously,” UA coach Terry Bowden said.
They still trailed the Zips by three points, but it gave the Falcons something more. The touchdown awakened Bowling Green’s sleepwalking defense.
They matched the Zips’ first-half shutout and the offense chipped in 24 points. Through it all, the Falcons (3-3, 1-1 MAC) showed why, coming into the game, they had the MAC’s top defense.
Dalton Williams, who completed 29-of-50 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown, running back Jawon Chisholm (16 rushes, 100 yards) and their cohorts made it look easy, gouging the Falcons for 280 yards in the first half. That changed in the second half.
The Zips (1-5, 0-2) gained a net 36 yards in second half, including minus-23 yards on the ground due primarily to the assault the Falcons’ defensive line unleashed on Williams, sacking him four times.
Williams had been sacked just six times in the first five games.
“They’re a good football team,” Williams said. “We never really found our rhythm [in the second half],” Williams said. “They did some things to take us out of our game. We were searching for it and fighting and never quit. Everyone was playing their hearts out trying to get that win.”
Bowden gave much of the credit to the Falcons’ defense in the second half.
“The problem was our offense couldn’t protect the lead, couldn’t keep the ball going and forced the defense to go out there too long and [the defense] was very vulnerable,” he said.
He took his share of the blame, too.
“We did not have a good Plan B to turn to,” Bowden said.
That might be the case, but when the Zips begin preparations for undefeated Ohio, they will have defensive line issues.
The extent of Caponi’s injury is unknown, and he’s key to clogging up the middle. If he can’t play, opposing running backs will salivate at the possibilities.
Presley will be out for two to three weeks with his injury, taking with him some of the pressure the Zips have been able to get on opposing quarterbacks.
Depth is a problem all over the roster, but the defensive line always had the glaring problems. It showed Saturday.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.