The 10 days between games proved to be the respite the University of Akron football team needed.
That observation comes from coach Terry Bowden after his team suffered one of the more disappointing losses of the season against previously winless University of Massachusetts.
Normally he might have preferred the break to come during the middle of the season so the team could get healthy, but UMass changed that.
“They needed a mental break,” Bowden said during his weekly news conference. “You need to rest and relax and mentally get away and they came back fresh. You don’t mind a longer week too much if you need it like this.”
It might have been needed because the Zips (1-10, 0-7 Mid-American Conference) will play Toledo (8-3, 5-2) at 7 tonight on ESPN2.
That the game is on national television has gotten the team’s attention, Bowden said.
“The players know what it means. It’s kind of neat for them to play on national TV and make a lasting impression and play their best football, which is what it’s going to take,” he said. “It’s going to take our best football and maybe for Toledo to make some mistakes.”
That, of course, would be the key for the Zips after their most recent outing.
When the Zips have the ball: To say the Zips struggled offensively against the Minutemen would be an understatement. The yardage (427 total) was there, but the points were not. The Zips managed just 14 points in the game. Quarterback Dalton Williams produced a huge chunk of that yardage with 332 passing yards, but he also tossed four interceptions. The Zips had five turnovers, a statistic that must change for the team to have any sort of chance against the Rockets.
“We cannot beat this team scoring seven or 14 points. We have to get enough out of the running game to make the passing game work and get a few big plays,” Bowden said.
Starting running back Jawon Chisholm (163 attempts, 906 yards and four touchdowns) has shown consistency after the first few weeks of the season. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in six games. The key is for the offense to make those yards count and relieve some of the pressure on the passing game.
The primary problem has been the Zips’ inability to stretch any defenses. The other? Interceptions. Williams (324-of-518 for 3,335 yards, 25 touchdowns and 16 interceptions) has to be more careful with the football and, hopefully, the offensive line has to return to protecting Williams the way they did in the first five games of the season.
Bowden said the Zips have to play within themselves and try to avoid playing catch-up, something that could possibly eliminate mental errors.
Given that the Rockets are ranked third in the conference in turnover margin, that is imperative.
When the Rockets have the ball: Bowden speaks highly of Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens (209-of-333 for 2,677 yards, 14 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; 99 rushes for 487 yards and five touchdowns).
“It starts with a quarterback who can score from anywhere,” Bowden said.
But the Rockets also have a dangerous running back. Junior David Fluellen (252 attempts for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns) is the MAC’s third-leading rusher and averages 5.8 yards per carry, tying him for second in the MAC.
“Their quarterback is so, so talented and the key is to limit his scrambling, make him get rid of the ball and don’t let him sit back there and pick you apart, because he will,” Bowden said.
And he’ll have help should he have to rely on his arm. The Rockets’ Bernard Reedy (78 receptions, 1,032 yards, six touchdowns) is the conference’s second-leading receiver. If the UA defensive line can get some pressure and contain, they could make things uncomfortable for Toledo.
When asked if there was a chance that he’d turn to sophomore Kyle Pohl should Williams falter, Bowden said he’d wait and see.
“I think I want to let the game play out regarding Kyle Pohl. My senior quarterback is not the reason for a lot of wins, but he is the reason we’ve been in a lot of ballgames,” he said.
But there’s also some realism at play.
“Here’s what we told him. If he’s not hitting the corners, let’s get a relief pitcher in there to throw some strikes. We’ll have that plan in, but we want to see how it flows. If Dalton has a hot hand, I doubt we’ll see it,” Bowden said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. 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.