The University of Akron running game isn’t exactly at a standstill, but it does need to shift to a higher gear.
At 108.2 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry, the Zips remain far from where they should be on the ground to contribute to coach Terry Bowden’s spread offense working efficiently and effectively.
Bowden said the Zips — from players to coaching staff — know they need to run the ball better.
A number of things have combined to prevent it from happening in the first five games.
Playing from behind is the main culprit, said running back Jawon Chisholm who has rushed for 227 yards on 57 carries so far this year.
“It is hard — real hard — not being able to get going,” he said after Thursday morning’s practice. “In order to get going, you’ve got to get the ball.”
And that’s the problem. Not being able to score in the first quarter has hurt the Zips not only on the scoreboard, but with the game plan.
“We have to be better in games early and not fall behind because when you get behind 14-0, Coach Bowden isn’t going to say let’s run the ball 10 times in a row,” offensive line coach Alan Arrington said.
The Zips expect to rush for 160 to 170 yards per game, including big plays, Bowden said.
Those have been sparse from the running back position with Chisholm claiming the season’s longest rush from scrimmage: a 55-yarder against James Madison.
“In one way, you still look for that big play,” Bowden said. “You need big plays, but if you’re going to be a one-back offense, the quarterback’s got to get involved a little bit.”
Therein lies another issue.
Dinged-up quarterbacks have prevented that element from gaining momentum. Kyle Pohl suffered a sprained ankle early in the season and his backup Nick Hirschman suffered a knee injury during the James Madison game.
“We’ve had some designs with our offense,” Bowden said. “When Kyle sprained his ankle in the very first game and Hirschman hurt his knee, we had to rearrange what we were going to do.”
Pohl is close to being back to 100 percent, so his effect on the running game should come into play in the near future, but that isn’t the only aspect of the UA offense that’s a problem.
In goal-line situations, problems have arisen in crucial situations. The obvious one occurred when the Zips had a third-and-1 on the Michigan 2-yard line with less than 10 seconds left and Chisholm lost 2 yards on a rush.
The most recent example came with the Zips trailing 24-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter against Bowling Green. The Zips had a third-and-goal at the Falcons’ 1-yard line and opted for a play-action pass that was broken up in the end zone.
Bowden has a you-dance-with-who-got-you-there philosophy, meaning the play-action pass, but it could be argued that they didn’t have enough confidence in the running game to punch the ball in.
At 216 pounds, sophomore Conor Hundley is the biggest back in the three-player rotation (something Bowden doesn’t see changing).
“We don’t have a big power back,” Bowden said. “If you had your druthers, you wouldn’t mind having some power on the goal line.”
The thing that’s impressed about Bowden and his staff is the willingness to put people in places where they can be successful and help the team.
Fans only have to look to wide receiver Zach D’Orazio’s success for that.
Going back to last year, the Zips made the move to convert 5-foot-11, 283-pound Cody Grice to nose tackle where he has excelled. Grice was a running back at Firestone High School.
No one is suggesting that he return to offense full time, but in those goal-line situations, a player with Grice’s abilities could be used to an advantage.
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.