The afterglow for the University of Akron in the wake of the Zips’ second win of the season served its purpose, but there’s still some football left to be played on the season.
When the Zips take Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium at noon Saturday, they will face a task similar to the ones that they faced against ranked opponents Michigan and Northern Illinois.
The good news? They played with those teams down to the wire and came very close to beating the Wolverines. What will challenge them Saturday however is whether they can get back to business.
All signs point to yes. In practice the smiles have been large but the focus shows as does the resolve. What happens against Ball State? We shall see, but know that it will be a challenge.
For the Cardinals, everything begins with quarterback Keith Wenning. He hasn’t thrown for fewer than 300 yards in a game this year, and he averages a shade better than 333 yards. That is firepower.
“As a pure pocket passer, he’s the best. He’s the best. He’s very good at what he does,” Zips coach Terry Bowden said.
And make no mistake about it, Wenning stays in the pocket and completes 61.4 percent of his passes. His primary target, receiver Willie Snead, averages 119.6 receiving yards and has eight touchdowns on the season with a long of 55 yards.
He’s followed by sophomore Jordan Williams with 83.5 yards per game, five touchdowns and a long of 72 yards.
If that wasn’t enough, the Zips will have to contend with Jamill Smith, who averages 68.9 yards per game. The three receivers are ensconced in the Mid-American Conference’s receiving Top 10.
The firepower doesn’t end there.
Running back Jahwan Edwards rushes for 5.3 yards per carry and already has 11 touchdowns.
Add this brew up, and it equals the conference’s second best offense in total yards and scoring (39.1 points per game).
Initially that looks like a tough nut to crack, but go a little deeper and the Zips defense, if they keep focus, can contain this offense.
The defense has come on strong in the past two games.
Against Northern Illinois, they held the Huskies well below their season averages in rushing yards and, more important, points. They pounded quarterback Jordan Lynch, who told a Zips staffer that he hadn’t been hit that hard in a long time. Lynch was held in check overall.
Against Miami, the defense held the RedHawks to 303 yards in total offense, and they came up with six sacks.
That last stat will be the key Saturday as they have to get consistent pressure on Wenning to try to keep him off his game. The Zips are second in the conference with 23 sacks. Their best shot is forcing Wenning into mistakes, which he doesn’t commit very often, or making the Cardinals rely as much as possible on the running game.
As good as Ball State is on offense, they rank in the middle of the pack on defense. That, however, comes with a proviso.
“Defensively they’re playing much better this year,” Bowden said.
Indeed, they rank fourth when it comes to scoring defense, giving up 23.1 points per game through the season, meaning scoring opportunities will exist.
But the game plan, in spirit, will be much the same as it was against Northern Illinois. Bowden wants to out shoot ’em.
“They can answer so well on offense. You’re going to have to score points because they are going to score points,” he said.
That means quarterback Kyle Pohl will have to continue on the path he started last week, bouncing back from two consecutive mediocre efforts to play efficiently against the RedHawks. Who was even more gratifying was running back Jawon Chisholm. he appeared to get untracked just a little with 85 yards rushing and, most noticeably, three touchdown runs. The Cardinals give up 204.5 yards per game. They can be run upon, and if the offense can score and the defense can continue its upward trajectory, UA has a shot at taking this game.
Ball State Cardinals vs. Akron Zips
Where: InfoCision Stadium
TV/Radio/Internet: WEWS (Ch. 5) / ESPN3 / WatchESPN — Michael Reghi (play-by-play) and Doug Graber (analyst). WARF (1350-AM) for free at SportsRadio1350.com and on iHeartRadio, Steve French (play-by-play), Brad Detwiler (analyst) and Joe Dunn (sideline) will have the call beginning at 11 a.m.; view at gozips.com for webcast and live statistics. Audio stream available at Sportsradio1350.com.
Notes: It’s the 21st all-time meeting between the Zips and Cardinals with UA having a 10-9-1 edge, but Ball State has a three-game winning streak in the series. They last played one another Nov. 6, 2010 in a game the Cardinals won 37-30 in triple overtime.
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.