The University of Akron football team will be well rested when it faces the University of Massachusetts on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.
Because of the bye week, the Zips have had a chance to relax, but also bask in the glow of having reclaimed the Wagon Wheel from Kent State.
That was on full display Friday night at Rhodes Arena when coach Terry Bowden and senior players got to hoist the trophy up in front of more than 4,200 fans who watched the Zips men’s basketball team beat Coastal Carolina.
“It wasn’t just a win. It was Kent State, our rival. It was a great week to have an off week,” Bowden said during his Monday conference call. “Bye weeks are just more enjoyable when you’re coming off a win, but when you’re coming off a win with your rival, that’s important.”
But the focus shifts this week as Bowden said that the team has practiced well and participated in a hard practice to begin the week Monday.
The goal: two more wins.
“We haven’t had a game where it hasn’t come down to the last series,” he said. “We’ve got a few positions where players have taken every snap the entire season. It’s been tiring on them, but they’ve responded well. We’ve enjoyed our time off [but] we’ve had a pretty physical, demanding practice today.”
Although the Zips have tripled their win total over the prior three seasons, Bowden said too much work remains to be done, with games against UMass and Toledo remaining.
“These wins are critical,” he said. “Three wins is as many as this team has had in the last three years combined. The seniors know a fourth win hasn’t happened [in six years]. Every game is another step. Every win is another step in our program and right now, we can’t take anything for granted.”
It was just the first game of the season and the Zips at times played very impressively against Coastal Carolina. But the Zips gave up large portions of two leads of 20 or more points against the Chanticleers.
The Zips are acutely aware of what’s required to avoid such lulls.
“I think we have to learn how to finish as a team,” forward Quincy Diggs said. “We got nonchalant at the end and let them back in the game. We just have to get better by controlling the ball and having less turnovers.”
For those who saw Friday’s game, coach Keith Dambrot’s thinking was on full display.
He played his veteran players. The only member of a talented freshman class to get any playing time was Kwan Cheatham Jr. and he played only one minute.
“We need to play the young big kids, but I decided before the game that I was going to use my older guys tonight to get a win because we’ve lost so many games early in the season I’m getting sick of it,” Dambrot said. “Psychologically, I was impaired so I was going to play those older guys.”
But there is a method to Dambrot’s madness.
“I just want to make sure they’re [freshmen] totally ready to play before we start playing them a lot. We need to win some of these games,” he said. “[Coastal] was a must game for us. With the [next] three games on the road we had to win that game.”
But he said getting the freshmen big men playing time is in the cards.
“I’m going to get those guys ready so we can play bigger,” he said.
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.