Ohio State Buckeyes defensive back Cameron Kittle (38), Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) and Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Mitch Rossi (34) sing "Carmen Ohio" following Saturday's NCAA Division I football game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on September 18, 2021. Ohio State won the game 41-20.

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No. 10 Ohio State looks to boost confidence against Akron

Ohio State still has issues on both sides of the ball, far more than one would expect for a team pegged for a shot at returning to the national title game, but the No. 10 Buckeyes should feel better about themselves after hosting Akron on Saturday.

The Buckeyes (2-1) are a seven-touchdown favorite over the Zips (1-2), who are coming off a 35-14 win over Bryant from the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision.

Ohio State ran away from its problems when TreVeyon Henderson broke two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s 49-year-old school record for rushing yards (239) by a freshman in a game during the Buckeyes’ 41-20 victory against Tulsa last Saturday.

Even though Henderson gained 277 yards on 24 carries, the outcome was in doubt until the Buckeyes got 14 unanswered points late.

He had a 5-yard TD in the first half before breaking out with TDs of 48 and 52 yards, plus other runs of 54 and 31 yards.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Ohio State left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere said. “It’s nice to see all of his work and all of his efforts being paid off.”

Henderson’s historic game masked that redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud through three career starts is still struggling with the passing game while dealing with a shoulder injury.

Receiver Chris Olave, a projected first-rounder for the 2022 NFL Draft, was targeted four times among Stroud’s 25 throws and did not have a catch, although a 47-yarder was wiped out because of an offensive penalty.

Akron quarterback DJ Irons, a transfer from Iowa Central Community College in his first start, accounted for 432 (296 passing, 136 rushing) of the Zips’ 578 total yards against Bryant. His dual-threat capabilities could cause the shaky Ohio State defense problems.

After a 35-28 loss to Oregon on Sept. 11, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was demoted from on-field play-calling to the press box and replaced by secondary coach Matt Barnes.

Yet, Tulsa had 501 total yards, 428 of which were passing by Davis Brin.

Ohio State is 118th of 130 FBS teams in total defense, allowing 471.3 yards per game. The Buckeyes are 117th in pass defense (289.7) and their 28.7 points allowed per game ranks tied for 90th.

“These first few weeks haven’t been ideal,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, alluding to the number of young players used. “I didn’t have many expectations because there were so many unknowns. Here we are, guys that just haven’t played. Until they’re actually in a game, you just don’t know.”

Akron already knows what it’s like to go against a big-time program, having lost its season opener 60-10 at Auburn. That was followed by a 45-24 loss to Temple.

For Zips coach Tom Arth, who is 2-19 in his third season, the win over Bryant was a matter of mental toughness after the score was tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter.

“If that doubt starts creeping into your mind, you’ve got to control it,” he said. “No matter what is done, no matter what happens, the one thing we are in control of is our thought and how we are talking to ourselves.”

— Field Level Media

Jul 22, 2021; Hoover, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bryan Harsin speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at Hyatt Regency Birmingham. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Harsin era opens as Auburn hosts Akron

Bryan Harsin makes his Auburn coaching debut when the Tigers host Akron in Saturday night’s season opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It is the first of two anticipated tune-up games for Auburn before traveling to No. 19 Penn State later this month.

The unranked Tigers are big favorites over the Zips, who are coming off a 1-5 season and are picked to finish fifth this fall in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. The Tigers host Alabama State, an FCS program, on Sept. 11.

Brought to the Plains after a successful six-year stint at Boise State, where he went 69-19, Harsin had to stay home two weeks in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He returned to practice Monday and doesn’t see his absence from the field as a major factor in preparing for the Zips.

“I’ve been able to watch practice live so I’ve got that, which has been great,” he said last week. “Actually, I’ve been able to see some things you don’t usually get when you have that bird’s-eye view.”

Junior quarterback Bo Nix and leading rusher Tank Bigsby are among seven returning starters on offense and linebackers Zakoby McClain, Owen Pappoe, and Chandler Wooten return on defense.

Nix has passed for 4,957 yards in starting the last two years. Bigsby rushed for 834 yards in 10 games as a freshman in 2020.

McClain was Auburn’s top tackler (113) in 2020, and Pappoe and Wooten have been named permanent co-captains for 2021. Pappoe had 93 stops last year but Wooten sat out 2020 over COVID concerns.

The Tigers lost a potential starter up front when defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell, left the team before fall camp and transferred to Florida. He had 19 career starts.

Akron welcomes back quarterback Kato Nelson and linebacker Bubba Arslanian. Arslanian had 74 tackles in just six games to lead the Zips. Nelson sat out 2020 after having shoulder surgery. He made 10 starts in 2019, passing for 1,820 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I’m feeling great,” Nelson said. “I’m healthy.”

Coach Tom Arth, who is 1-17 in two years at Akron, is hoping that the experience gained in last year’s abbreviated season pays dividends.

“Even though it was half of a traditional year, those six games were valuable to us in the development of our roster,” he said.

–Field Level Media