With the annual spring game less than a week away, University of Akron football coach Terry Bowden knows one thing about his defense: It will respond.
After the offense got the better of the defense in Thursday’s scrimmage, the tables were turned in Saturday’s practice at Stile Athletics Field House. The defense recorded two safeties and recovered three fumbles, never allowing the offense to get in any sort of groove.
“I told our team today that it was as dominant a performance that I’ve seen the way our defense played. They won every series but two,” Bowden said.
The reason for overwhelming the offense? No big plays. In Thursday’s scrimmage, running back Conor Hundley ripped off a 55-yard touchdown run that ignited the offense. No such play appeared Saturday.
“It was just the opposite of the last scrimmage,” Bowden said. “The defense responded with great effort, great intensity and a desire to never let it happen again.”
With power running teams such as Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference, Bowden knows that the Zips’ defense still must improve, primarily in size, and that could come with transfers. But there is much to like in the defense.
“Right now, they’re starting to play fast and reckless, but we’re still 205- and 210-pound defensive ends,” he said.
It’s enough to be optimistic, but it’s something he wants to see on both sides of the ball.
“Now the offense has to respond. ... Big plays create excitement all over,” he said. “We have to learn from that today.”
The offensive line remains a work in progress, Bowden said.
Jarrod Pughsley is out with an ankle sprain, and offensive linemen Micah Lio and Joe Petrides (who’d been injured) have to step up. Bowden said that there are numerous people on the offensive line who he wants to see get a lot of reps in the last days of spring practice leading up to next weekend’s game. The Zips will hold their annual Blue-Gold Spring Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at InfoCision Stadium.
“Above all, the most improvement and needed growth needs to be the offensive line,” he said.
Back from oblivion
Running back Hakeem Lawrence was in pads, but didn’t see any action in Saturday’s practice. He’d been out for a couple of weeks with hamstring issues. During that time, freshman running back D.J. Jones, who starred locally at Ravenna, has shown that he could be productive.
“When you’re not a solid No. 1, you don’t protect your position when you’re injured,” Bowden said of Lawrence. “[We’ve] got three guys. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. When he’s ready, he’ll fight with D.J. Jones. I’d like Hakeem to play, but I’m comfortable with D.J. at three.”
Wide receiver Dee Frieson had been among the walking wounded as well, but did see action. His performance proved mixed as he scored a touchdown on a run, but on another play, he fumbled after getting hammered by a defender.
Judging from the 90 to 100 high school players in the field house, it’s difficult to remember that the Zips had a 1-11 season last year.
The players attended the scrimmage as part of Junior Day. Attendance was up significantly over last year when about 60 attended. One notable prospect: Paryss Marshall, a 6-foot-2 receiver from Northampton, Pa., who caught 40 balls for 827 yards for a 20.7 average with 12 touchdowns. Adding to the stats: He played both ways and intercepted nine passes for Catasauqua High School. He has the size that Bowden appears to like, and the numbers speak for themselves. What’s to draw him to UA other than superb facilities and a chance to play? His father, former Cavaliers player Donyell Marshall, still resides in Northeast Ohio.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.