At first, the University of Akron quarterback situation might have been considered cloudy, at best.
It’s a bit clearer after the 35-33 win over James Madison Saturday. The Zips seem to have two quarterbacks who can lead the team. That is a good problem to have for coach Terry Bowden.
Although starter Kyle Pohl (14-of-22, 143 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) struggled early, he showed up late. Junior transfer Nick Hirschman (6-of-10, 144 yards, two touchdown and a 1-yard touchdown run) filled in with confidence after Pohl went down with an injury.
Pohl injured his ankle in the second quarter with the Zips trailing 13-0, and at the time, he was delivering a so-so performance. Hirschman entered on the sixth play of a 13-play drive that eventually ended in a touchdown. That he engineered the score, which he completed with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, is of little surprise. That he came in during the middle of it says something about him as a player.
“We couldn’t have won without Nick,” Bowden said.
By halftime, the Zips led 14-13. And Hirschman eventually got them ahead 21-16 with a 68-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Andrew Pratt. The problem is Hirschman injured his knee running down the field to congratulate his teammate.
Re-enter Pohl, who threw two touchdown passes while bringing the Zips back. Pohl was forced to stay in the pocket due to his injury, but he played much better after returning to the field, perhaps responding to a competitive push from his teammate.
It’s of little matter, Bowden said. As the two work through injuries (Pohl a left ankle and Hirschman a left knee), Pohl’s job is safe.
“If you’re suggesting Nick moved ahead of Pohl, I think they were just both banged up and playing. You don’t want a guy to lose his position because of injury,” he said.
Besides, he was in more of a mood to savor the win rather than deal with quarterback issues. He jokingly told reporters in a postgame interview session to go write that story at a later date.
And it might present itself, too. For now, however, both will battle through minor injuries that limited their Monday practice time.
More QB stuff
So what would have happened had Pohl not been able to gut things out?
“I was very close to going with Dalton Easton, but Kyle was able to go out there and stand his ground pretty good,” Bowden said.
It would have been baptism by fire for Easton, a redshirt freshman who has yet to play for the Zips.
The kicking game
Fans got a look at the reason why Bowden was reluctant to put freshmen in big roles in the kicking game to start the season.
On the Zips’ first return effort, freshmen Fransohn Bickley and Mykel Traylor-Bennett were back deep when James Madison’s kicker booted the ball short intentionally. It looked as if both were confused and the Dukes ended up with the ball deep in Zips territory, eventually converting the turnover into their second touchdown and a 13-0 lead that put the Zips in a big hole.
The Dukes seemed extremely reluctant to kick to Bickley, and in the day of YouTube it’s not difficult to guess why: Bickley’s blazing speed is evident on video.
“They must’ve read the newspapers, because they wouldn’t kick to him. His speed shows on certain plays,” Bowden said.
After the heart-pounding victory, Bowden gave himself a new title: chief morale officer.
“For most of the while there at Akron, you’re the morale coach, too. You’re pumping people up and keeping them going besides teaching them fundamentals,” he said.
Next is a trip to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., for a game Saturday against No. 11 Michigan.
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.