The key words for the University of Akron football team (2-0) when it takes on Iowa State at noon Saturday — “even keel.”
As in the Zips need to stay on an even keel to beat the Cyclones (0-2), a team they lost to last year 41-14. It would be easy for the Zips to take that win over Northwestern, tuck it in their pockets and say we got one.
The key for the coaching staff is to not allow that to happen, maintaining a business-like demeanor so they can accomplish their goals.
“I guess you could go out there and be overconfident if you’re playing someone else, but you’re playing a team as good as or better than [Northwestern]. You’re playing Iowa State.,” coach Terry Bowden said. “I think what we want to have is confidence, not overconfidence, not arrogance … We have enough senior leadership that they understand that only comes from hard work.”
Bowden expects the Cyclones to be pretty “ornery and cantankerous” after losing their second consecutive game of the season. Iowa State lost to arch rival Iowa and Oklahoma, after enduring an opening season cancellation like the Zips.
UA players are quite aware of what they’re facing in the Cyclones, especially offensively. Iowa State has played two quarterbacks. Zeb Noland (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) filled in admirably for injured Kyle Kempt, completing 25-of-36 passes for 360 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Both operate similarly within the Cyclones offense, not doing much different from the other, Bowden said.
“It’s the weapons,” he said when asked what makes them successful.
“They have a real good wide receiver in [Hakeem Butler) and a real good back in [David Montgomery], UA linebacker Ulysees Gilbert said, “but at the same time I feel like we match up fairly well.”
Montgomery rushed for 127 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. At 6-6, 225 pounds, Butler presents his own problems. He has 209 receiving yards and has produced four plays of 25 yards or more with a long of 57 yards. That could present problems for a Zips secondary in which the tallest player stands 6-feet.
“You have to minimize the damage he is going to do because he’s going to do some damage,” Bowden said. “He doesn’t necessarily have to outrun you, but he can outjump you. He catches a lot of toss-ups and that’s what they look forward to.”
For the Zips, the hope is quarterback Kato Nelson continues to develop at a rapid pace. Nelson and the offense played out of sync for the first half against Northwestern, only to rebound in the second and contribute significantly to that upset.
Nelson made smart plays in that second half and in the passing game, the offensive line enjoyed a clean game, keeping the quarterback off the turf. That will be essential for him hooking up with his group of talented, but inexperienced receivers.
“We can’t have the kind of first half we had against Northwestern and expect to win this week,” Nelson said, “so we need to come out and be efficient as an offense.”
The Cyclones' defensive rankings — No. 57 against the run and No. 113 in passing efficiency defense — suggest the Zips might be able to move the ball and score on the Cyclones, who have given up 25 points per game, 71st in the country.
Right guard Kyle Ritz won’t assume that the Zips can score at will.
“They’ve changed up their defensive scheme a little bit,” he said. “They’re playing looser and a lot faster and out front moving around a bit. As an offense, as long as we can identify it and handle that front, we’ll be fine.”
Keeping on an even keel or avoiding complacency might be an obvious state of mind, but the Northwestern win was so significant, any number of emotional factors could come into play. Bowden said the focus this week consists of getting the team to realize one thing.
“Northwestern, that game is over,” he said, “we have to win this game this week on our own merits.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.