The goal is modest for a lot of college football programs across the nation, but for the University of Akron and its new coach Terry Bowden, two is a magic number.
Given that the Zips have gone 1-11 the past two seasons, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out why that’s the case.
“I’ve said it before, you want these kids to get No. 2,” Bowden said during a recent interview in his office. “Your goal is to go out there and win every game, [but] as far as goal-setting, two is going to be their first major step in heading our program in a new direction.”
Some might accuse Bowden and his staff of sanctioning mediocrity, but he doesn’t view it that way.
“You can say all you want to, but it will take the weight off players’ backs. It will take some weight off my back and everything after that is going to be something beyond and things can snowball,” he said.
Getting the program turned in the right direction is the primary job for Bowden and a staff that includes former North Carolina State coach and defensive guru Chuck Amato. But that isn’t going to be done in a season or even three for that matter.
“To me there’s no question that we don’t have the skill level necessary to be successful,” Bowden said. “We have to have some speed people step up and be competitors at wideout, slot receiver, running back, kick returner, punt returner — those kind of things.”
Bowden inherited a team with a 2-22 record over the past two seasons after coming from the University of North Alabama where his teams made three consecutive playoff appearances. The only other thing the job offered at the time was questions. The primary one being whether his players had the desire to win.
“I know with certainty that they will do whatever it takes to be successful. I know for a fact that whatever we asked of them, they’ve totally bought in. That’s critical,” he said. “That’s a great feeling because so many times, I don’t think you know where your players stand.”
As fall practice opens today, however, Bowden will try to get a handle on those other questions. He answered a major one recently when he revealed that Dalton Williams, a senior transfer from Stephen F. Austin, is No. 1 on the depth chart at quarterback going into camp with sophomore Kyle Pohl serving as backup.
Williams has four years experience as a backup in the new offense that Bowden installed, and Bowden likes his leadership capabilities. That makes it his job to lose. However, Zips fans shouldn’t be surprised if Pohl eventually assumes the reins at some point during the season. His arm is stronger, and Bowden feels the same about his ability to lead the team.
“Those two guys have shown the requisite leadership skills,” Bowden said.
While the issue of quarterback is settled for now, there are still other issues related to an inexperienced defensive line, the linebackers and defensive backs. The offensive line is a bit more settled courtesy of Jarrod Pughsley, whom Bowden raved about during spring practice, and several guys who received plenty of seasoning courtesy of playing time due to injuries to others.
Despite having two solid running backs in sophomore Jawon Chisholm (961 yards on 218 carries for a 4.4 average last year) and junior Brock Alexander (196 yards on 48 carries for 4.1 yards per carry last season), Bowden is looking for more.
“They’re classic I-type running backs. They’ve shown some good stuff,” Bowden said. “[But] we’ve brought in some little guys who can fly and give you those Warrick Dunn-type skills — that littler guy who can go east and west and north and south.”
What they don’t have is breakaway speed. That is something he’s going to look for among incoming freshmen Bryan Green, Hakeem Lawrence and Conor Hundley.
“We’d like to see one or two of those guys show us something right off the bat because that’s a position that if they’re really talented, they don’t have to be in there when their blocking is needed,” Bowden said. “They don’t have to be in there when [the offense] doing a bunch of different things. If they show early — natural skills — they can play a lot as a freshman.”
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.