The University of Akron football players would do well to head into the Miami RedHawks’ Yager Stadium on Saturday reciting to themselves one simple line from George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.
“It’s a trap.”
The RedHawks (0-6, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) are winless and earlier this season under the tutelage of now former coach Don Treadwell appeared directionless.
It would be easy for a one-win Zips (1-5, 0-2) team, which has appeared upbeat in several practices this week, to mentally mark this one down in the win column.
The Zips have shown a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona this season, getting up for games that matter such as Michigan and Northern Illinois. The latter proved a benchmark and established whether the team was ready to pack it in for the season. They are not.
But they have to go into Oxford on Saturday and play as they did in those two big games.
“We are just so hungry for a victory. They know we have to get prepared for 60 minutes of football in trying to win a close game,” Zips coach Terry Bowden said.
Whether that hunger translates into actually being able to dine on a victory Saturday remains to be seen, but it’s clear that they want to avoid laying an egg and the RedHawks’ stats suggest it would be a Tyrannosaurus rex-sized egg if it happens.
“Offensively they’re still a bit of an enigma. You don’t really know exactly what they’re going to do. We’ve had to prepare for everything from the option to the spread passing attack because they have bits of everything they can do,” Bowden said during his Tuesday news conference.
Clearly, however, Zac Dysert, the former RedHawks quarterback now apprenticing in the NFL, made a huge difference. This year’s starter, Austin Boucher, has been a weak link in the Miami offense despite having some experience before this season.
The RedHawks might use a myriad of offensive philosophies, but none of them has translated for a unit that averages just nine points per game, putting them last in the conference.
Boucher averages just 115 yards passing per game with a 43 percent completion rate. The offense has had just three plays of 40 yards or longer, suggesting the offense lacks explosiveness.
The Zips’ improved pass rush should be able to get to Boucher as he has been sacked 16 times. The Zips still are without defensive end C.J. James (eligibility issues), but they have a number of other players — a pass rush by committee — that should be able to make Boucher’s afternoon uncomfortable.
As for the Miami run game? It is ranked last in the conference, just a notch lower than the Zips. The bottom line is that if the defense plays anywhere near the level that they did against the No. 23 Northern Illinois Huskies last week, then they will make the offense’s job easy.
If there is ever a game that the Zips in rushing attack in general and running back Jawon Chisholm in particular are going to kick into gear, it’s this one.
The Miami defense gives up more than 227 yards per game on the ground. Chisholm has come close to breaking more than a few runs this season and backup Conor Hundley’s straight-forward bruising style could mean a good day for him, as well.
Some could argue that the Zips’ passing attack hasn’t been the same since taking Michigan to the brink. Disputing that would prove difficult. But here’s a chance for Kyle Pohl to regain some rhythm and, if necessary, confidence after two lackluster performances against Ohio and NIU.
Bowden looks to the future concerning Pohl and he should given the flashes that the first-year starter has shown. But the RedHawks give up 257-plus passing yards per game. Zach D’Orazio, L.T. Smith and Jerrod Dillard should be able to prosper. This game is made for them to step up and make big plays.
Add those factors up and you have a defense that gives up 32-plus points per game.
This is a game where the Zips can erase a lot of bad mojo. It can be the second victory of the season, a big deal when they have only won once in each of the past three seasons.
But no assumptions should be made. After all, there’s a reason they play the games on Saturdays, and Bowden knows this.
“They’ve rallied around their head coach and they’ve played well under him. I think they’ve responded to the situation,” he said.
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.