2014 Spring Preview: Akron Zips

Head coach Terry Bowden did a fantastic job in his second season at Akron.  Bowden, who took over the program in 2012, inherited a team that was 2-22 in 2010 and 2011. In 2011, the Zips lost by an average of 27.5 points per game and were non-competitive in those games.  In Bowden’s first season in 2012, the team finished with a 1-11 record, however, Akron had lost 7 games by average 7.6 points per game. The staff did a fantastic job in game planning and preparing the team to fight week in and week out .

Last season marked the turning point for the Zips program. A week three matchup with the #11 ranked  Michigan Wolverines was the turning point in finishing the 2013 campaign with a 5-7 overall record. Although the Zips lost on the last play of the game (28-24) they outplayed the Wolverines and found out that they could play with any team with the MAC.

Bowden’s staff did a fantastic job and developed talent that allowed the Zips to a 4-4 MAC record.  Since the team went to 1-A in 1987, the Zips have not won more than 7 games in a season. This year, the team is poised to build off of last year’s season and make a run to a possible bowl berth.

Offense:

Junior Kyle Pohl is the projected starter at the quarterback position. Pohl showed great leadership down the stretch in leading the Zips to 4 of 5 victories. Pohl possess a strong arm and has good pocket presence. Last year, Pohl completed 56% of his passes for 2,438 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  In the MAC, Pohl will be one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference. The loss of Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois) , Tyler Tettleton (Ohio) , Keith Wenning (Ball State) and Terrence Owens (Toledo) open the door for Pohl to become a quarterback to keep your eye on entering the 2014 season. With another year under offensive coordinator AJ Milwee's tutelage, Pohl is set to have his best season in his career.

Running back Jawon Chisholm is a dual threat back that does not shy away from contact. Last year, Chisholm averaged 4.6 yards per carry and rushed for 869 yards with 8 touchdowns. Chisholm can also catch the football and recorded 27 receptions for 211 yards and 1 touchdown.  Junior Conor Hundley is a blue collar back that runs with an attitude. Hundley’s performance at the end of last season keyed the victories in November. Hundley rushed for 425 yards on 100 carries and is excellent in pass protection.

Wide receivers will be a strength of the offense entering 2014. Zach D'Orazio . L.T. Smith and Fransohn Bickley all return to the program. D’Orazio led the team with 42 receptions with 567 yards and 4 touchdowns. Smith was second on the team with 428 receiving yards (28 receptions) while Bickley was second on the team with 39 receptions and third on the team in receiving yards (407).  Bickley gives the Zips a legitimate deep threat to stretch opposing offenses. Smith has great hands and his acrobatic one handed catch in the “Big House” was a Sportscenter highlight.

The offensive line will look to build off of last season’s success. The addition of line coach John Peterson from UAB will help with the Zips development this year. Peterson was with Akron from 1995-1998 and was with Miami (OH)  and Ohio State before moving to UAB in 2012. Cedric Brittnum and Isiah Williams will be counted on to anchor the offensive line, however, there are a number of younger players that can step in and contribute.

Defense:

Akron finished 3rd in the MAC in total defense surrendering 397 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Chuck Amato did a great job of developing players and utilizing his player’s strengths. The addition of secondary coach Otis Mounds  will help solidify a solid coaching staff. The Zips yielded 28.6 points per game in 2013. Akron did a solid job in attacking the passer as the Zips recorded 26 sacks last season.

The defensive line will be anchored by Cody Grice and Nordly Capi. The Zips allowed 164 rushing yards per game, however, the development  of players such as Keontae Hollis, Darius Copeland and Alfonso Horner should add to the depth as this group will be much stronger in 2014.

The Zips feature one of the strongest linebackers in the league. Jatavis Brown, C.J. Mizell, and Justin March are physical linebackers that are strong in pass coverage. Brown was a 1st team MAC selection with 107 tackles. March was tied for first in interceptions on the team with 3 and finished 2013 with 80 total tackles. Mizell had 41 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. This group showed grow in 2014 as they  possess great speed and strength at the point of attack.

The secondary is led by safety Johnny Robinson. Robinson had 2 interceptions in 2013, however, he is a very physical defensive back that is not afraid to come up in run support. Robinson will lead a secondary that yielded 232.9 passing yards per game in 2013. The addition of coach Mounds who played for coach Bowden at Auburn and coached at Texas Tech should improve on last year’s numbers. Look for the Zips to bring an attacking mentality  to the secondary in 2014.

The kicking game is very solid with returning punter Zach Paul and field goal kick Rob Stein returning. Paul finished the 2013 season averaging 42.8 yards per kick, while Stein converted on 29 of 30 extra points and 9 of 16 field goal attempts.

Bowden and his staff have done a fantastic job in turning around the program and bringing a new found optimism back to Akron.  The team will look to improve on last season’s record and make back to a bowl appearance for the first time since the 2005 season. Akron has only played one bowl game in the school’s history and team has the players on the roster to make a postseason berth a reality.

Schedule:

AUGUST

Thu. 28 Howard               

SEPTEMBER

Sat. 6     at Penn State                    

Sat. 20   Marshall

Sat. 27   at Pittsburgh                                    

OCTOBER

Sat. 4     Eastern Michigan   

Sat. 11   Miami (Ohio)   

Sat. 18   at Ohio

Sat. 25   at Ball State       

NOVEMBER

Tue. 4    Bowling Green                

Tue. 11 at Buffalo

Tue. 18 Massachusetts

Tue. 25 at Kent State

Joseph Lisi is a former ABC Sports college football researcher. He is the owner of www.NCAABLITZ.com and www.GOFORTHE2.COM. Joseph has contributed as a writer for www.Rantsports.com- You can follow him on YOUTUBE at: MRJAL2230 or on Twitter @Goforthe2

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