A brisk wind rolled around InfoCision Stadium, complementing an unreasonable October chill to put the University of Akron offense on ice — with the exception of running back Jawon Chisholm — for much of Saturday’s game against Ball States.
A thaw eventually came, but it did so late in the Cardinals’ 42-24 Mid-American Conference win.
Chisholm rushed for 166 yards on 26 carries, including a 65-yard sprint for a touchdown, to serve as the Zips’ only spark on offense.
The passing game was nearly nonexistent. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl struggled, completing 17-of-35 passes for 211 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown. Pohl also ran for a touchdown.
“There was enough wind to affect both teams’ passing game,” UA coach Terry Bowden said. “You didn’t see very many deep balls thrown today, so the coaches made sure they wouldn’t let them [throw deep]. The wind was gusty. It wasn’t continually strong. It was off and on, off and on.”
Pohl’s problems weren’t just with the wind or the cold, but with accuracy and questionable decisions.
On several occasions, he rifled the ball to receivers who were either blanketed or covered by more than a single defender, lucky to come away without a turnover.
“Early on, I didn’t think Kyle was as sharp has he’s been other times,” Bowden said.
The defense gave Pohl and the offense opportunities, but they didn’t capitalize.
It’s a small victory, but Ball State (8-1, 5-0 MAC) quarterback Keith Wenning came into the game averaging a little more than 333 yards passing per game.
The Zips held him to 240 yards. It’s the four touchdown passes that caused problems.
“The defense held him back a little bit,” Bowden said, “but again, he’s a very good quarterback and they’re very good receivers.”
Despite spotting the Cardinals a 14-3 lead in the opening quarter, the Zips (2-7, 1-4) buckled down on subsequent drives.
“It was just a great job of adjusting to what they saw on the field out there,” Bowden said. “Their offense was very good. You don’t stop them all the time.”
On four consecutive possessions in the first half, the Zips defense harassed and harangued the Cardinals, forcing three punts and a turnover, giving the offense every chance to get into the game.
The Zips couldn’t generate anything resembling rhythm until deciding to ride Chisholm, and he started to put things together in the second quarter.
On a four-play, 82-yard drive, he rushed the ball three times. The first two carries netted 13 yards. On the next, Chisholm dashed 65 yards for the Zips’ first touchdown to put them back in the game.
“When you have a big run like that, all of a sudden you’re rushing for 200 yards,” Bowden said. “Now, with that type of running, we have to look out there and see if we can make some plays in our passing game again.”
But the defense gave up 434 yards to the second-best offense in the MAC.
Bowden said during the week that the Zips would need to match the Cardinals in a shootout and to do so they had to maximize every opportunity available to them. They did not.
The Zips’ closest margin came with Ball State leading 14-10 in the second quarter after Chisholm’s score. It seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Cardinals, who scored on their next two possessions to take a commanding 28-10 halftime lead. It was a virtually insurmountable deficit.
Ultimately, there’s enough blame to go around — from showing a lack of discipline with personal foul penalties to missed field goals.
“Our best today was not good enough,” Bowden said. “There were enough mistakes that I cannot be totally pleased. The players played hard.
‘‘We made a lot of good plays and we had a chance to get in that game in the second half.”
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.