Pick your rivalry cliche.
Records don’t matter. On any given Saturday. There are those and then there’s reality. Reality for the University of Akron is it will take an all-around flawless game to beat rival Kent State.
Coming off a huge win against previously undefeated and No. 18 Rutgers, Darrell Hazell’s Golden Flashes are continuously improving. The game plan for the Zips can be summed up in three words: stop Dri Archer.
When the Zips have the ball: UA will have running back Jawon Chisholm back after he missed last week’s game against Central Michigan. Chisholm (124 carries, 688 yards and two touchdowns) is an important cog in the Zips’ offense. For them to win, they need the power and bursts of speed he provides. When Chisholm is not in the game, it will be up to Conor Hundley, a freshman running back who had a decent game against CMU last weekend with 17 carries for 92 yards.
“We have to mix the run and the pass without turning the ball over,” UA coach Terry Bowden said. “They can rush four and get after the quarterback; they’re that good.”
Indeed they are that good.
Against a good KSU defense, the Zips can’t afford to make any mistakes. Quarterback Dalton Williams (260-of-426, 2,691 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), who, according to Bowden, has tried to take too much on his shoulders lately, must throw accurately and have a clean game.
The KSU defense doesn’t rank near the top of the MAC in many categories, but they rank No. 1 in one of the most important — turnovers. They are plus-19 in the turnover category.
“They’re going to find ways not just to stop you, but to get the ball away from you and if they don’t score themselves, they’re going to put the offense in a position to score,” Bowden said.
The Zips will have to be mindful of junior defensive end Roosevelt Nix, who leads the MAC in tackles for loss, and senior linebacker Luke Batton, who has a nose for the football and is near the top of the conference in tackles.
When the Flashes have the ball: Hazell is in the enviable position of having thunder and lightning in his backfield. Trayion Durham is a power back who has rushed for 780 yards on 166 carries and eight touchdowns. If Hazell needs a big play, there is Archer, who is second on the team in rushing with 766 yards and nine touchdowns.
Archer is a running back who is also a threat in the passing game. He has 22 receptions (second best on the team) for 314 yards and three touchdowns.
KSU quarterback Spencer Keith is more manager than threat from his position, but when you have backs such as Durham and Archer, you don’t need to fling the ball around.
What the Zips do have going for them this week is there’s a decent chance that defensive tackle Nico Caponi will be back after a prolonged recovery from a high ankle sprain.
Special teams play: Archer is a triple threat for the Flashes, leading them and the MAC in all-purpose yards (1,627), and has three touchdowns in the kicking game. He averages better than 40 yards per return. The Zips might be better off kicking the ball out of bounds at each chance. Bowden will definitely have to consider that option.
In his Tuesday news conference, Bowden said they’d be looking at all options in the kicking game.
“With a kick returner like that, you better have a plan and you better not wait to see what he’s going to do before he does it,” he said.
Wide receiver Zach D’Orazio, who has been recovering from a broken leg, ran patterns at the field house this week.
By the numbers
Akron leads the rivalry 30-22-2, but since the Wagon Wheel trophy has been at stake (dating to 1946), Kent State has a 21-19-1 lead. The Zips are 8-13 at Kent State, and have won three of the past five games overall.
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.