The University of Akron will turn its eyes to the football conference schedule for the first time this season after tallying a 1-3 record in nonleague games.
The overall improvement in the Zips can be seen even if it hasn’t shown up with multiple wins just yet.
At this point, coach Terry Bowden has but one piece of advice for his team: don’t lose the positive attitude and don’t stop what you’re doing.
The Zips will open Mid-American Conference play against the Bowling Green Falcons at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Doyt Perry Stadium.
“As of today, our kids have a fresh start. We’re 0-0 in the conference,” he said at his Tuesday afternoon news conference. “We’ve got a fresh start, and we have just as good a chance as anybody of winning our division. That’s the great thing about being in conference.”
BG is a favorite to take the MAC’s East Division and has shown a high-powered offense to match its defense from a year ago. For that reason, Bowden said that the Zips will have to correct consistent problems. It might sound like a skipping compact disc, but slow starts offensively doomed the Zips against Michigan and last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“You don’t have to guess what type of offensive game plan you’re going to have to have; you’re going to need one that’s going to be pretty productive,” he said. “You’ve got to score points. You have to be wide open. I think that’s another reason you have to address that first quarter because after that first quarter we’re doing pretty well in putting points on the board.”
Bowden and offensive coordinator A.J. Milwee collaborate to script the first plays and call them throughout the game, he said. Changes in what’s called might be in order.
“I think it’s a little bit about play selection and what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We have to look at what we’re trying to set up and what we’re trying to do offensively and give guys a chance to make bigger plays early.”
They normally script the first 15 plays, with things changing according to the situation on the field.
“That way we all practice them, practice them and practice them,” he said.
Against the Ragin’ Cajuns last week, Bowden said that he counted nine negative plays among the first 15 due to various mistakes, including missed blocks and players going to the wrong area.
“We have to do a better job in executing them,” he said.
In the meantime Bowden wants to emphasize that the team’s goals of a bowl trip and East Division championship remain attainable.
Bowden wasn’t sure about Fransohn Bickley other than his small stature and maturity when the Zips brought him in — the only Division I offer the St. Vincent-St. Mary receiver received.
But Bickley’s five-catch, 79-yard, two-touchdown performance last Saturday makes Bowden sure of one thing: Things are about to change for the receiver.
“He’s also going to be facing more pressure now,” he said. “The next team we play will see how well he did in that game and they’re going to say, ‘OK we have to have a plan and make sure we have [someone] out there to cover him.’ ”
This now gives the Zips another playmaker to go with Zach D’Orazio, Jerrod Dillard and J.T. Smith — but Bickley has blazing speed. Bowden doesn’t sound worried whether Bickley can handle the situation.
“The things that make him different is maturity-wise — as little as his size is, his confidence and demeanor [are] giant,” he said. “He goes out there not intimidated to play against Michigan, not intimidated to play against guys in a big league.”
Backup quarterback Nick Hirschman received some practice time Tuesday. He had been out since injuring his knee in the victory over James Madison.
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.