It’s distinctly possible that the rest of the season hinges on what happens when the University of Akron plays Central Michigan at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Mich., on Saturday.
Coach Terry Bowden has said more than once that the number two would be a huge psychological milestone for the Zips (1-7, 0-4 in the Mid-American Conference). It would give them the chance to match their win total for the prior two seasons combined and hopefully begin some momentum heading into the future.
There have been myriad noticeable changes, especially on offense. The Zips are ranked sixth in the MAC in overall offense and scoring offense, a seismic shift from last season when they were near the bottom of both categories.
“The opportunity to line up and play a football game and get another win ought to motivate you plenty good and it seems to have motivated them pretty good, but I think it’s premature to suggest what No. 2 would mean [beyond winning that game],” Bowden said during his weekly news conference.
It’s become a familiar refrain for the Zips throughout the season. Choose your well-worn cliche: they’ve been ever-so close in games, but find themselves playing from behind, committing costly mistakes or just running out of time. Occasionally it’s all three, but they have been resilient during this rough patch.
“We go out and prepare hard and we know each week is a challenge in this conference,” right tackle Adam Bice said. “We hope to play our best game every week.”
That attitude has helped the Zips keep focused on business, but a win over the Chippewas (2-5, 0-3) would definitely have an impact, Bice said after Thursday morning’s practice.
“We’ve been so close so many games this year that to get over that hump would bring some confidence back to our team,” he said. “We haven’t lost our confidence, but it would help boost morale a little bit more.”
Bowden has preached perseverance to his team all week, he said. But he’s also a pragmatist.
“Eventually you like to see a turn and you want to see the results of your fruits of labor, but sometimes you can’t,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t determine how that’s going to happen, so you just line up and persevere and do the best with what you’ve got and see where you are.”
But pragmatism occasionally gives way to hoping.
“Another win would be awful big for them,” he said. “It would be big for me.”
In the backfield
Starting running back Jawon Chisholm (124 carries, 688 yards, two touchdowns) was in sweats for Thursday’s practice, making it more likely that Conor Hundley will start at tailback against Central Michigan with Hakeem Lawrence serving as backup.
“I’m not feeling nervous because I get a lot of reps in practice with the other [running backs],” Hundley said. “They do a good job of rotating us in. I’ve had some game-time experience. It’s not too bad.”
Hundley has shown he can be a scrappy runner and Bowden said he’s the type of rusher who will get 100 yards on 20 carries, but what remains to be seen is if he can match another of Chisholm’s strong suits — receiving. Chisholm has 24 receptions for 198 yards. Hundley has two for 24 yards.
“I know we do it in games a lot and in practice it isn’t always there, but I feel I can get out of the backfield and catch the ball and get down field with it,” Hundley said.
The Chippewas rank 11th in the MAC, giving up 234.4 rushing yards per game, so whoever carries the ball for the Zips should have a chance to be successful.
“It’s definitely something that sticks out a little bit,” Hundley said, “but we’re going to stick to what we do best and whatever is working in the game we’re going to stick with.”
Bowden ruled defensive linemen Nico Caponi (ankle) and Albert Presley (fractured fibula) out for the game. Neither practiced Thursday. Chisholm (wrist) also has a shoulder injury.
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.