At this point of the football season, beginning the Mid-American Conference schedule, teams are happy to get a clean slate.

Goals for the University of Akron and Bowling Green are still out there, despite losing records in nonconference games.

Call it a proving ground, but both teams want to start the conference schedule the right way.

“They’re 0-4; I think this one is pretty danged important to them,” UA coach Terry Bowden said of the Falcons. “It’s sure as heck important to us because every conference game is.”

The Zips (1-3) head into Doyt L. Perry Stadium in Bowling Green at 6 p.m. Saturday to face a team that has beaten them in their past eight games, including one last year that put a dent in the Zips’ bowl aspirations.

The Zips lost 38-28 in a game in which they simply ran out of quarterbacks. Thomas Woodson tried to play with an injured shoulder to no avail. Then backup Tra’Von Chapman was knocked from the game and the team had to finish with Tyrell Goodman, a wide receiver who played quarterback in high school.

“They probably have a chip on their shoulder,” Falcons coach Mike Jinks said in his weekly news conference. “They had five wins and a chance to secure a bowl game and we were able to come up with a victory.”

This year the Zips shouldn’t run out of quarterbacks but that doesn’t mean the Zips should put this game in the win column.

Winless records have a way of fostering desire. The Zips defense will also go up against quarterback Jarret Doege who will get just his second start of the season. The advantage for UA is Doege, a freshman, has little experience. By the same token, there’s not a lot to look at on tape.

Doege completed 21-of-35 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Middle Tennessee State last week. His primary handicap might not be his inability to throw the ball, but his offense’s lack of a running game. The Falcons average 81 yards rushing a game to rank 122nd in the nation. The Zips rank 82nd in the nation against the run (163.5 yards per game).

Something will have to give. With safety Zach Guiser still in the NCAA’s concussion protocol and defensive linemen Deon’Tae Moore and Darius Copeland suffering the same issue, nothing is certain. But a stat from the Middle Tennessee game that will likely stand out for defensive coordinator Chuck Amato is 1 net yard of rushing for the Falcons last week.

The Falcons have problems on defense, too. They are ranked last in defense in the conference with pass defense being of particular concern.

Jinks understands that his cornerbacks aren’t seasoned and are not ready to play in press coverage. They are willing to cede the underneath stuff in the hopes of preventing long completions.

Despite Bowden’s mantra about balance, that fact alone would seem to open up opportunities for Zips wide receivers, who appear to be regaining health. Austin Wolf returned to lead the Zips in receptions last week, the team has a legitimate deep threat in Kwadarrius Smith and Chapman has displayed the ability to make the clutch catch and run when there’s enough space.

But looks can be deceiving. Running back Warren Ball has produced two 100-yard efforts this season. The Falcons have allowed 243.8 yards on the ground their first four games. Ball looked strong in grinding out 112 tough yards against Troy on Saturday and Jinks is expecting a well-prepared Zips team.

“They’ll come in fired up and ready to play,” he said, “and we’ll have to match the intensity and come out and play a physical ballgame.”

The Zips, regardless of what the numbers say, will have to do the same.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.