ASHLAND — Tim Rose has coached football almost his entire life, but Ashland’s veteran defensive coordinator had a hard time explaining what he witnessed last week.
AU’s defensive performance defied logic.
The sixth-ranked Eagles held Walsh to 66 yards of total offense in a 35-0 win that was over almost as soon as it started.
AU forced a turnover on Walsh’s first play from scrimmage when linebacker Michael Ayers recovered a fumble at the Cavaliers’ 24-yard line. The Eagles then scored on their first offensive play when Austin Brenner hooked up with Ontario product Garret Niss, who fumbled at the goal line before AU’s Johron Johnson pounced on it in the end zone for a touchdown.
AU (5-0, 3-0 Great Midwest Athletic Conference) held the Cavaliers to 9 yards rushing on 24 attempts. The Eagles forced three turnovers and limited Walsh to four first downs.
When asked if he had ever seen anything like it in almost 60 years of coaching at the high school and collegiate levels, Rose was quick to answer.
“No, no, no,” he said incredulously. “I don’t know how it’s possible. I think you had a pretty good defense and an offense that was struggling.
“When you put those two things together and then get off to the start that we got off to, all of a sudden we are energized and they are demoralized.”
The Eagles aren’t likely to have such an easy go of it Saturday evening when Ohio Dominican invades Jack Miller Stadium. The Panthers (4-2, 3-1) average 28.2 points and 397.3 yards a game.
“Those guys down in Columbus are pretty darn good and they always play us pretty well up here,” AU coach Lee Owens said. “We’re going to have our hands full as we move forward through the rest of the league schedule.”
ODU leads the GMAC with 290.8 passing yards a game thanks largely to Hillsdale High School product Andrew Wolf. A graduate student who transferred to Ohio Dominican after starring at Division III Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., Wolf ranks second in the GMAC in receptions (42) and touchdowns (7) and third in receiving yards (550). He had 12 catches for 269 yards and four touchdowns, including a 96-yarder, in ODU’s 44-38 loss to nationally-ranked Indianapolis late last month.
“Offensively, they throw it really well. They’ve got a couple of really good receivers that get open and make plays. They protect the quarterback well,” Owens said. “They’ve struggled at times to run the football, but it’s not because they haven’t tried. I think they’ll still come out and try to run the football against us a little bit. Which has been difficult for teams to do.
“The best matchup they have against our defense is throwing because that’s what they do really well and we really haven’t been tested there yet.”
AU’s defense is led by linebacker Michael Ayers, the reigning GMAC Defensive Player of the Year. Ayers had just two tackles in last week’s win, but recovered a fumble and had a quarterback hurry that resulted in defensive tackle Nick Cone’s interception. Ayers has a team-high 36 tackles and leads the GMAC with three forced fumbles.
Senior safety Jourdan Swett has 26 tackles and two interceptions. Undersized defensive end Deeb Alawan (5-foot-8, 230 pounds) is tied for second in the GMAC with five sacks.
“We just can’t let the quarterback be comfortable throwing the football. I can’t remember a quarterback we’ve played against yet that felt real comfortable dropping back to throw the ball,” Owens said. “We’ve done a really good job of keeping them rattled — changing fronts, changing coverages, bringing pressure and not letting them get in any kind of rhythm.
“That’s the thing that Dominican does really well with their offense. They’re a rhythm football team. … We have to find a way to disrupt that. If we can do that, I’ll think we’ll be OK.”
AU’s offense sputtered last week and Owens thought a lack of focus was to blame. The defense and special teams — AU blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and recovered another Walsh fumble for a touchdown late in the second quarter — were so good the offense lacked its usual sense of urgency.
“Twenty-eight of our points basically were gimmes. It wasn’t like the offense had to do anything at all,” Owens said. “It was really hard for us to keep our focus on offense when you’re that good defensively.
“We’re going to have to work on that because we got kind of sloppy after we got that big lead.”
AU quarterback Austin Brenner played sparingly but still completed 6-of-9 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Tailback Larry Martin rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown while Logan Bolin caught four passes for 58 yards.
Ashland and Tiffin are both undefeated in GMAC play. Tiffin is atop the standings at 4-0 while AU is 3-0. Ohio Dominican is a game back in the loss column at 3-1.
“We want to be challenged. We want to have to strap it up and go for 60 minutes and expect to win it on the last play,” Owens said. “That’s what we want every week. Competitors look for those opportunities.
“Our guys are really fired up about this week. They can’t wait until 7 o’clock on Saturday.”