University of Akron coach Terry Bowden said the UA-Kent State rivalry is unlike anything he has seen in his coaching career.
Given that he’s from the first family of college football — one that made him well versed in the Florida-Florida State rumble — that’s a rather significant statement.
His resume includes a stint at Auburn, and the War Eagles played the Alabama Crimson Tide in an annual matchup known as the Iron Bowl, which only reinforces the unique nature of that statement.
“They’re across the state, but this one seems across the street,” he said of the Zips-Golden Flashes rivalry that is set for its annual renewal at 2 p.m. Saturday at Dix Stadium.
“The fans live across the street. They sit in the same restaurants and watering holes and have to live this one out all the time.”
A very astute observation. About 190 miles separate Ann Arbor, Mich., and Columbus. About 160 miles lay between the Crimson Tide and Tigers. Here? The likelihood that your neighbor supports either Kent State or Akron is multiplied.
Because of that, Bowden didn’t come to it with any preconceived notions. He talked to people and learned the obvious — the groups of fans don’t particularly like one another. But learning about it beyond that was important to him.
“I think you have to get a feel for it and sink your teeth into it and get a feel for it. You’ve got to not sit back and see how it goes,” he said. “You have to go out and talk to people and figure out a little bit about it. This means a lot to people, because of the proximity of the schools are so close.”
What stuck out to him was that despite the consistent lack of success, for the fans the rivalry has that intensity he mentioned more than once during his Tuesday news conference.
Ultimately, it’s more important for Zips players to understand, Bowden said. He and his staff will spend every day this week conveying the importance of the rivalry to them, most notably by bringing in former players to talk to the team.
“You have to expose them to the guys [who] learned when they were here,” he said.
Game within game
It’s an old football cliché, but one of the easiest paths to victory in any game is winning the battle for turnovers.
Forcing turnovers has proven to be one of the keys to success for the Golden Flashes (7-1, 4-0) this season as they boast a gaudy plus-19 in turnover margin, most of which coming via intercepted passes.
Bowden gives the credit to their experience on defense.
“It comes from being a veteran team that knows what they’re doing. The communication is all together,” he said. “They’re able to play football with their eyes. When you get veteran big guys who create a bigger collision, they create bigger turnovers.”
He also recognizes the importance of having that ability, given the Zips’ (1-7, 0-4) minus-11 margin in that category (12th in the MAC).
“You got to create them,” he said.
“You have to have them. Statistics show that a team that creates turnovers is even more important than a team that doesn’t turn the ball over. The most important stat is defensive takeaways, which suggest that you have a top defense, an aggressive defense.”
Running back Jawon Chisholm (wrist/shoulder) resumed practice with the team but remains day-to-day for the game. ... Defensive linemen Nico Caponi (ankle) and Albert Presley (leg) will also be day-to-day issues.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.