Given the University of Akron’s most recent performance, fans would be crazy not to question whether the Zips have the ability to shake off a huge loss.
The score of UA’s 43-3 loss to Ohio speaks volumes. It says that the offense stunk, the defense played wretchedly and the special teams followed suit.
Time to compartmentalize, forget, blow it off and move on.
With Northern Illinois, arguably the best team in the Mid-American Conference, lining up against UA today, those same fans would have to ask if the Zips have any chance. The Huskies have already beaten Purdue and Iowa of the Big Ten.
The Zips came close to beating a Big Ten team as well, barely losing to Michigan. So how do they beat the Huskies?
“People think there’s some magical motivational tool that you have,” UA coach Terry Bowden said. “The key is you try to get them believing each and every week, go out there and play your best then anything can happen. It’s a football game, that’s why you have to play it on Saturday.”
In other words, there are no clear-cut answers. However, the blueprint lies in what they did to the Wolverines with a wrench or two thrown into the mix.
The primary consideration remains quarterback Jordan Lynch, last year’s conference MVP. It’s up for debate, but Lynch might very well be a better quarterback than Michigan’s Devin Gardner.
He’s a legitimate dual-threat quarterback who passes for 222.6 yards per game and as the team’s second leading rusher, averages 106.6 yards per game. Those are huge problems for any defense.
“He’s going to get his share,” Bowden said during his Tuesday news conference. “Somewhere along the line you have to match them on the other side of the line from what I’ve seen so far and don’t get down if they’re getting yards and points.
“You have to do the best you can to hold them down, then you have to be able to score with them.”
The Huskies average 42.5 points per game, so staying with them will be difficult. Some of it will have to involve the defense. If the Zips can force the Huskies into turning the ball over a couple of times, that will go a long way. Against Michigan and Gardner, they forced three turnovers. Zips defensive players who have been stalwarts this year — linebacker Justin March, defensive end Nordly Capi and the rest of the defensive line that has harassed quarterbacks this year more than last — will have to come at this game the same way that they approached the Wolverines.
But above all, the Zips defense must eliminate the big plays and stop third-down conversions.
Notice what Bowden said in his news conference this week. He doesn’t sound too concerned about what happens on defense.
What he needs is for the Zips’ offense to deliver a platinum performance. He expects the offense to match NIU and be just a little better.
There are reasons to believe that’s possible. The Huskies’ defense gives up yards (479.4 per game) and points (29.8 per game) and they are vulnerable in the passing game (313.8 yards per game).
There is no better opportunity for quarterback Kyle Pohl to connect with receivers L.T. Smith and Zach D’Orazio and shake off his performance from the Ohio game.
Pohl said the offense practiced crisply and kept its spirit up throughout the week. The Zips also understand the task ahead of them.
“They give up yards. They give up points,” Pohl said. “We really need to come out and have a good game and put ourselves in a position to win the game, not force our defense to do that much work to help us be successful.”
That means max protection on the line against a team that has 17 sacks and minimizing offensive mistakes, meaning no turnovers.
This is another area where mistakes need to be eliminated. Last week, the Zips committed a couple of crucial ones, including a fumble and fielding a kickoff and running out of bounds inside the 10-yard line. Lastly, kicker Robert Stein, hopefully is over his issues.
A Zips spokesman confirmed that senior defensive end C.J. James did not travel with the team to DeKalb on Friday. James didn’t play last week because of an NCAA eligibility issue which apparently hasn’t been resolved. Bowden had hoped to receive some clarity on the matter Thursday afternoon. However, James is out indefinitely.
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.