- 1 of 1 Photos | View More Photos
By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Coaches tend to take different approaches to rivalry games.
Some try to sell them off as just another game, hoping to keep their troops from getting too amped up for battle. Others choose not to deny the significance of beating their arch-enemy and attack the rivalry head-on.
Paul Haynes definitely falls into category No. 2.
Kent State's first-year mentor has been in attack mode since moments after his team's disappointing 41-21 home setback to Buffalo on Saturday.
"It's Akron week. We said in the locker room (after Saturday's game) that every ounce of energy, mind, body and soul goes into this game and that's it," said Haynes. "Whatever we have to do, we're gonna do it to win this game. It's life or death. You don't lose to Akron, bottom line."
Haynes didn't back down from those words one bit during his weekly press conference on Monday.
"It's Akron week. It's everything. It makes and breaks seasons," said Haynes. "You throw records out the window, you throw what has happened in the past out the window. It does not matter. It just comes down to what happens at 3:30 on Saturday. This is the season.
"Whatever it takes, however we have to do it, whatever we've gotta do, it's gotta get done."
Haynes is not a typical rookie mentor when it comes to this rivalry, which will reconvene Saturday afternoon when Kent State (2-7, 1-4 MAC) visits Akron (2-7, 1-4) at 3:30 p.m. He played defensive back for the Golden Flashes from 1987-91, then returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach from 1999-2000. He went 2-2 against the Zips as a player and 0-2 as an assistant.
Haynes then went on to serve as an assistant coach at Ohio State under Jim Tressel, whose mastery of rival Michigan is unparalleled. Tressel went 8-1 against the dreaded "Team Up North," closing with seven consecutive wins.
For obvious reasons, Haynes is implementing several elements that Tressel used to prepare his teams to face Michigan -- some of which were already in place, since former Flashes coach Darrell Hazell also worked at OSU under Tressel.
"We started a new tradition (Sunday). We brought the (Kent State marching) band in and we had them perform the fight song, and we had them go through what they (play) on first down, second down and third down," said Haynes. "Then our guys grabbed the instruments and they started playing the fight song and we marched down to the 50-yard line."
"The band was one thing that we did (at OSU) that I thought was pretty neat and I wanted to bring here, just to get the band involved with the football players and the players involved with the band. Everybody is involved in this game, it's not just about the players on the field," Haynes said.
"I remember all the (beat Michigan) signs being up (in the locker room at OSU). One of the first questions I asked (KSU director of football operations Zack Tilves) is do we have (beat Akron) signs, and he said we did. I'm sure coach Hazell did that, and I'm sure (OSU) is where that came from."
The Kent State-Akron football tradition features the Wagon Wheel Trophy, a wheel from a horse-drawn wagon that is painted blue and gold, the school colors for both universities. The two teams have played for the Wagon Wheel in every meeting since the rivalry resumed in 1946 after World War II.
That wheel has been in the Golden Flashes' possession since Oct. 9, 2010, when they earned the first of three consecutive victories over the Zips.
"The best thing about the Wagon Wheel is having it," said KSU junior defensive end Nate Vance. "It's right when we walk (into our locker room), front and center. Where it should be. As long as it's in our locker room, we're good."
Haynes' jaw quivered when he talked about the Wagon Wheel.
"One of the hardest things to do when you talk about that wheel is have them run over and take it," said Haynes. "That's what you can't have happen. You cannot. (You win the game) by any means necessary."
Flashes redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon threw for a career-high 260 yards against the Bulls, but also had a pair of critical interceptions that led to Buffalo touchdowns, including a pick by UB star linebacker Khalil Mack just before halftime that turned a potential Kent State lead into a 20-7 deficit.
Reardon missed the previous game due to an ankle injury sustained late in the Flashes' Oct. 12 game at Ball State and "is still not 100 percent," but Haynes wouldn't use the injury as an excuse.
"The freshman came out in him, trying to make a play instead of just taking what they give you," said Haynes. "But he'll learn from it, we'll teach from it and we'll move forward. He's still our guy. We still have a lot of faith and trust in him."
AKRON MEMORIES, PART I
Haynes' most vivid memory from his playing days against the Zips is one he'd rather forget.
"Unfortunately, I've got bad memories, because I blew my knee out against Akron (in 1989)," he said. "It was in the Rubber Bowl. It was my second (major knee injury), I did my first one in high school. I remember the play, remember exactly where it was. Every time I went back to the Rubber Bowl, I always went back to that spot where it happened. It was a non-contact deal, just planted my foot. That is my biggest memory, unfortunately. But you still remember the week. Regardless of what happens before or what happens afterward, you're still gonna remember this game."
AKRON MEMORIES, PART II
Vance, a former Stow High School star, has memories of KSU-Akron games as both a player and a fan. His father, Zane Vance, was an assistant coach for the Flashes from 2004-10.
"Last year, as a player, was probably my favorite memory," said Nate Vance, who helped Kent State overcome an early 14-0 deficit to defeat Akron 35-24 in 2012. "As a fan, when my dad was here in '06, Julian Edelman was quarterback and we had like 20,000-some people at the game, nice weather and we spanked them pretty good (37-15). That was my favorite."
BACK TO SQUARE ONE
While coaches sometimes talk about pulling out all the stops in a rivalry game, Haynes says his team will get "back to the basics" in practice this week after struggling fundamentally in their past two contests.
"We've gotta play with a lot more fundamental and technique. We haven't done that very well the last couple weeks," said Haynes, whose squad has been outscored 79-42 in its last two contests. "For us to be successful it just comes back down to the fundamentals of football - running, tackling, blocking, getting off blocks, throwing and catching. If we do those things a little bit better we'll give ourselves a better chance to win."
EARLY LINE: KSU is a one-point favorite.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier