The fun begins for the Zips.
Yes, it would have been exhilarating if the University of Akron had pulled off an upset of Michigan a couple of weeks ago.
More optimism would have surrounded the team if it could have knocked off Louisiana-Lafayette last week.
But the true measure of UA will begin at 2:30 p.m. today against Bowling Green at Doyt Perry Stadium.
The Mid-American Conference’s Eastern Division is projected to be wide open this year. Any team could find itself playing in the MAC Championship Game on Nov. 30 in Detroit.
It’s not ridiculous for the Zips to believe that they are MAC contenders despite a 1-3 record in nonconference play. Starting off with a win over the Falcons (3-1, 1-0) would boost confidence and prospects.
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson realizes that this isn’t the same team the conference has seen in previous years.
“Akron’s going to win. It’s not if, it’s when,” he said during a Monday teleconference.
He cites a laundry list of reasons, including better line play and improvement from Zips quarterback Kyle Pohl.
Could it be a psyche job? Perhaps, but that oblong ball does take funny bounces. Sooner or later, a few have to go UA’s way.
Until then, though, fundamental football will beat conference opponents. The Zips have played from behind in their first four games. The offense must get off to a fast start. Here’s how the Zips can do it this week against the Falcons.
It’s time for Pohl and the offense to show that it wasn’t a fluke to put up 89 points in the past three games against James Madison, Michigan and Louisiana-Lafayette, teams that are known for postseason play.
Pohl’s go-to guy is sophomore Zach D’Orazio, the Zips’ leading receiver with 15 catches for 231 yards and four scores. Notice that in the past three games, however, a different receiver has stepped up to make an impact. They have a playmaker in St. Vincent-St. Mary product Fransohn Bickley.
L.T. Smith is finding his groove. Pohl has thrown for more than 300 yards in the past three games as he grows more comfortable with the offense and finds chemistry with receivers.
Bowling Green has the top-rated defense in the conference, giving up just 19.5 points per game. The Falcons give up 216 yards passing per game and 155.2 yards on the ground.
The Zips average just 111 yards of rushing per game. That will have to improve against the Falcons for the Zips to have a shot in the game. Running back Jawon Chisholm needs to rush more North-South instead of dancing around from side-side as he’s been known to do on occasion. In short: The Zips will need some balance on offensive.
“The difference in Bowling Green from this year isn’t their defense, it’s their offense,” Zips coach Terry Bowden said during his Tuesday news conference. “They were very solid [last year], this year they score points.”
The Falcons have gone from scoring 22.9 points per game to 33.2 points per game in the span of a season. Some of that can be attributed to quarterback Matt Johnson seizing control of the job.
The Falcons don’t score a lot through the air, but they do move the ball that way, setting up their run game for scores from their backs. William Houston, 6-foot, 262 pounds, has carried the ball just 23 times, but has five touchdowns. Overall running back Travis Greene, who averages 5.5 yards per carry and 102.2 yards per game, moves the chains. But the Zips will see several at work for a rushing offense that averages more than 217 yards per game.
The task is simple, but not easy for the Zips defense. If they can stop that run game, perhaps they can rattle the sophomore quarterback. What they clearly cannot do is continue to give up big plays, especially in critical situations. It’s happened more than a few times this season.
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.