The University of Akron won’t be bowl eligible, but that doesn’t mean the Zips will be looking to pack things in early today when they take on Toledo.
With a senior class of 21 players there’s plenty of pride left for the Zips (4-7, 3-4 Mid-American Conference). Some have been here just four years, but a few have come full circle after five.
They can remember when it began to fall apart with a 3-9 season. Now they face playing their last game knowing that the UA football program might very well have turned it around behind second-year coach Terry Bowden.
“Even though we can’t go to a bowl game, the things we’ve done in the last few weeks, I feel as if it’s not like it won’t mean nothing,” offensive lineman Jarrod Pughsley said. “[But] it will mean a lot more if we can end the season winning four out of five games as opposed to three out of the last five.”
Bowden agreed that a win against the Rockets (7-4, 5-2) would impress.
“It would be a real feather in their cap,” he said during his weekly news conference. “I just think it would be something special to play our best and beat a team that’s a bowl team. Is it going to diminish to me the great job that the seniors have done to weathering a lot of storms here? Never losing faith in themselves or what we’re doing or going out bringing us the most victories in five years? I’m not going to let it.”
With that statement comes the overriding impression that Bowden means it. Perhaps it’s because Pughsley and wide receiver Jerrod Dillard are both fifth-year seniors. They didn’t have to return.
“That’s all I cared about coming into this season is getting this thing going and setting them off the right way,” Dillard said after Monday’s practice.
Despite their rough times, the Zips still hold a sense of accomplishment.
“After we got the Wagon Wheel back, I looked at a couple of the other seniors and said, ‘Man, we turned it around,’ ” Pughsley said.
To continue the turnaround, they will have to do so against the Rockets, a team that came close to knocking off Northern Illinois recently. Here’s what the Zips must do:
The good news is the Zips won’t have to face David Fluellen, the Rockets’ stud running back who averages more than six yards per carry. It was also reported earlier this week that his backup will sit against the Zips. You never want to wish injury on any player, but it provides an advantage, right? Maybe not. Many football fans will remember the name Kareem Hunt from Friday night highlight shows when he played running back for Willoughby South. Hunt landed in Toledo and he’s made a mark, rushing for 768 yards and averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
“They can run their offense through him,” Bowden said.
The Zips will have to contain Hunt, but also must watch out for quarterback Terrance Owens, who can run and pass with effectiveness. The offense isn’t necessarily explosive, but it’s balanced which gives the Rockets plenty of options in the passing and running games.
The first priority is to stop the running game and force Owens, who averages a shade more than 188 yards passing per game, to win with his arm.
Bowden said it in Tuesday’s news conference: at this moment in time the Zips are looking for game management out of the offense and quarterback Kyle Pohl.
That suggests that play-calling will be conservative despite the fact that Rockets give up 250 yards passing per game.
Add to the mix that the offense looked very rusty coming off a bye week to play the UMass Minutemen two weeks ago — turning the ball over on their first three possessions — and there is another reason for restraint.
The running game has picked up the pace behind the efforts of Jawon Chisholm. He will have to crank it up again if the Zips are to win.
The following seniors will be honored today for one last hit: Bill Alexander, Broderick Alexander, Austin Bailey, Nico Caponi, Zenel Demhasaj, Jerrod Dillard, Malachi Freeman, Dee Frieson, Sean Graves, Anthony Holmes, Jr., C.J. James, Emmanuel Lartey, Moses McCray, Henry Orelus, Joe Petrides, Albert Presley, Jarrod Pughsley, Jon Root, Connor Seeman, Paul Skolmutch and Rufus Walls.
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.