University of Akron football coach Terry Bowden loves the fact that his team is playing meaningful football in November. It means the team has accomplished something, but in the case of the Zips (6-5, 4-3 in Mid-American Conference) they haven’t accomplished enough.
Like any rivalry game, there are no guarantees. Many expected the Zips to win last season, but they lost in a 27-24 game decided in the last moments.
The Golden Flashes (3-8, 2-5 in MAC), in other words, should not be overlooked. Like the Zips, they have several close losses, but that’s not the primary reason the Flashes are dangerous.
The KSU defense might be one of the few that can stand toe-to-toe with the Zips, ranking 21st in the country and giving up 348.4 yards per game. The Flashes average 2.82 sacks per game and rank No. 4 in defensive touchdowns surrendered. More daunting is that the Flashes’ pass defense features a veteran group of defensive backs — free safety Nate Holley, strong safety Jordan Italiano, cornerback Najee Murray and cornerback Demetrius Monday — that will challenge Zips quarterback Thomas Woodson and his receivers. They surrender just over 212 yards per game, but rank fourth — just behind UA — in interceptions with 12.
“Their head coach [Paul Haynes] is a former defensive coordinator who understands defense and how to play great defense,” Bowden said. “That’s why they’ll always be in football games when they play great defense.”
Woodson is coming off of what Bowden said was his best all-around game last Saturday against Buffalo, tossing four touchdowns.
“When I look at his confidence level. Him taking it upon himself to make plays ... the way he ran aggressively on third downs, the way he understood where the down and distance were, the amount of emotion that he carried … ,” Bowden said, “I think we saw him begin to see the role of quarterback be more than just an arm and a leg. It’s a mentality. It’s a leadership position.”
He did receive significant help from a UA running game that showed some muscle at just the right moment.
With senior Conor Hundley out with a head injury, his backup, Donnell Alexander, picked up the slack, rushing for 143 yards on 24 carries.
“He’s been patient and when he got a chance this past week, he did very, very well. We need both of them to be ready and both of them to play,” Bowden said of Alexander.
Bowden expects that he will need the two of them to provide an effective one-two punch against a run defense ranked third in conference, giving up 136 yards per carry.
This might be a game in which Bowden calls on defensive coordinator Chuck Amato and his crew to lead the way.
Last year, KSU quarterback Colin Reardon inflicted significant damage on the Zips, completing 28-of-45 passes for 298 yards. That included a 5-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Chris Humphrey. Reardon returns, but he is but one of a two-headed monster at quarterback. Freshman George Bollas (Aurora) is the other. He has completed 84-of-149 passes for 654 yards passing and two touchdowns.
“Reardon was instrumental in beating us last year,” Bowden said. “We think that would carry some weight going into our game, the fact that he was the quarterback who beat us last year. We can prepare for both of them — just because that’s who they’ve used the past five games.”
No shopping here
It will be Black Friday in the area’s malls, but it’s also Black Fryeday at InfoCision Stadium. Former UA quarterback Charlie Frye will be inducted into the Ring of Honor. The first 5,000 fans will receive Frye bobbleheads. Additionally, before the game, this year’s senior class will be honored.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.