University of Akron football coach Terry Bowden states with little hesitation his admiration for what Frank Solich has done with the Ohio football program.
“It’s a good, solid foundation built over time and it’s what we got to do here,” Bowden said during his weekly news conference.
Given the Bobcats’ (6-0, 2-0 Mid-American Conference) success, they’re bound to be the envy of MAC this season. National recognition comes with that record along with an upset of Penn State in their first game.
And they’ve been able to keep their success rolling despite some injuries to key players. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton missed one game earlier in the season and is still hampered by an injury that limits his ability to run. And redshirt freshman running back Ryan Boykin returned last week to give the Bobcats two touchdowns in a victory over Buffalo.
“I think we have more guys in our program that can play and that are supplying us more depth than we ever have,” Solich said.
Some might look at this game and think it’s a given for the Bobcats, but they have weaknesses, primarily that in more than a few games this season, they’ve started slowly, including last week against the Bulls.
“We hope that is an issue that doesn’t plague us the entire season, because we understand how tough MAC games are and we can’t continually do that, finding yourself coming from behind and winning football games all the time,” Solich said.
Still with a hurting defense it’s going to take a lot for the Zips to beat the Bobcats today at 2 p.m. in Athens
The Zips’ defense is banged up due to the losses of defensive tackle Nico Caponi (sprained ankle) and defensive end Albert Presley (fractured fibula). And linebacker Justin March still isn’t 100 percent after spraining his ankle a couple of weeks ago.
When the Zips are on offense: The UA offense is coming off a thumping in the second half of its game against Bowling Green. The Falcons pummeled quarterback Dalton Williams (182-of-293 for 1,907 yards, 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) with four sacks and shut the Zips out in the second half of a 24-10 BG win. Don’t think Solich didn’t study that film. Statistically, the Bobcats aren’t the MAC’s best defense, but they are one of the stingiest in the conference, tying for third in allowing just 22.8 points per game and they lead the MAC in turnover ratio with a plus-13.
“They’re very smart. These guys aren’t as physical, and when I say physical, I mean up front, big and bull rushers as Bowling Green,” Bowden said. “They don’t make mistakes. They eye the ball. They get interceptions. They hit you.”
That defense is keyed by junior linebacker Keith Moore, who had a season-high 16 solo tackles.
“[He] is always around the ball,” Bowden said. “He shows up on film a lot.”
For the Zips to be effective, they’re going to have to run the ball, something they did with some success against the Falcons in the first half. Running the ball will keep the Bobcats out of the Zips’ backfield. The task will fall primarily to Jawon Chisholm (498 yards on 88 carries with two rushing touchdowns) and Solich knows it.
“Even though you lose focus on their running game because they throw so much and throw so well, it’s something you’re certainly still going to have to contend with,” he said of Chisholm. “He’s a very physical runner.” He blocks very, very well. If you let them have both of those things for themselves, they’re going to be very, very good.”
When the Zips are on defense: Despite the fact that Tettleton is injured, the Ohio offense remains dangerous. The Bobcats possess a two-headed monster in their running attack, a fact that could prove problematic.
Junior Ryan Boykin rushed for two touchdowns against Buffalo after returning from an injury, and Beau Blankenship has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of the six games this season. He currently is ranked third in the country in rushing.
With Caponi ruled out for the game, look for Ohio to take a page from the Falcons’ book and run right at where Caponi, arguably the Zips’ best runstopper, would have been.
The Zips and Bobcats are meeting for the 21st consecutive season. Ohio has won four in a row and five of the past six meetings in a series that began in 1912.