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Friend vs Foe: Akron

September 12th, 2013 by Justin Potts

This week’s Friend vs Foe is going to be slightly different than the usual. Instead of simply asking each side to explain how their team will win, I asked the Akron blogger a few questions about the Zips. Matt Eliason, the Akron guy from the MAC SB Nation site Hustle Belt, is our guest this week to provide an insider’s perspective on the opponent we will see make its first ever trip to the Big House on Saturday. You can follow Matt on Twitter @matt24eli.

As usual, Josh handles the Michigan perspective, but this time he is focusing on what he would like to see from Michigan this week instead of how the Wolverines can win. You can follow him on Twitter @jdemille9.

1. Akron has gone 1-11 in each of the last three seasons. When he was hired Bowden stated that his short term goal was to double that win total, but instead he matched it. This season, he already has one win in just two games. Is that a product of facing an FCS school or does this team have the potential to be vastly improved from the last three seasons?

It’s hard to look at the win over James Madison as a sign of major improvement yet since Akron started out 2013 much like they did the past two seasons with the early season win over an FCS team. Having said that, you have to be excited about any sort of win when you’re the Zips and I will say that JMU is probably the best FCS team Akron has played. The 2012 Akron team was much improved from the 2011 version, so there’s hope that Terry Bowden will show more improvement in 2013 once we get deeper into schedule. Getting to that two-win barrier is still definitely a short term goal for the Zips and we’ll probably get a better sense of any improvement next week against UL-Lafayette and furthermore into the conference schedule.

2. Talk about Bowden’s offense. Last year it racked up a lot of yards, especially passing yards, but the quarterback and top receiver are gone. Can it be as effective this season, or will it feature more of a running game with Jawon Chisholm?

Jawon Chisholm rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a redshirt freshman last season (Ed Suba Jr, Akron Beacon Journal)

I think it’s Bowden’s goal to have the same type of passing offense the Zips had last year. The problem, as you mentioned, is that former QB Dalton Williams has graduated. Williams had an excellent 2012 despite the Zips’ record and Bowden looked to Kyle Pohl to leave where Williams left off. A bit of a quarterback controversy has developed as back-up Nick Hirschman led the Zips to their only score against UCF and sparked the Zips to three more scores against JMU after an injury to Pohl. Hirschman would leave the game with his own injury and Pohl returned and rebounded leading the Zips to two more scores. If both quarterbacks are healthy, I expect both to see some time again this week especially if when the game gets out of hand and this will continue to be a controversy heading into next week. Chisholm has struggled in the first two games save a 55 yard run against JMU which showed his big play ability. The Zips are a pass first offense and I’d like to see them get Chisholm more involved in the passing game as he can act as a safety valve and has the big play potential.

3. While the offense moved the ball pretty well last season, the defense couldn’t really stop anybody. After giving up 35.5 points through the first two games this season, is it more of the same?

The short answer is yes, it is more of the same. Akron has shown an embarrassing ability to tackle and continue to give up big plays in the passing game. The defense has given up big plays early and often and had the offense digging out of a hole in both games. The biggest positive from the defense has been Nico Caponi, who has three sacks in the first two games. The best hope for the Zips is to get pressure on Devin Gardner and force him to get rid of the ball early. Gardner will expose the secondary with big plays if he is given too much time in the pocket.

4. Obviously anything can happen, but an Akron win is probably a bit too much to ask for on Saturday. What are the realistic goals and expectations for the Zips in this game? What kind of performance would Akron fans be happy with?

Expectations are of course very low for Akron to get a win and the Zips will be looking for some small victories. Devin Gardner and the offense will not have any problems moving the ball against the Zips and should put up a lot of points. The first goal for the Zips on defense is to avoid the big plays. They haven’t had success doing it so far this season and face the most talented team they’ll face this season, but this has to be their priority in every game this season.

The Wolverines will be bringing the pressure all game and it will be difficult for the offense to establish a rhythm, but it would be ideal if one of the two quarterbacks established themselves as the surefire starter. If the game gets out of hand and Michigan starts to send in some second and third stringers, the hope is Akron will string together some long drives and put some points on the board.

5. For Akron to win, it would take….

A serious case of food poisoning is the best chance. In seriousness though, it would take a lot of luck and bad turnovers by Gardner to keep the Zips in this game. Capitalizing on those turnovers with touchdowns and long time consuming drives could keep the Zips in the game. The more times the Wolverines’ offense hit the field, the less chance the Zips have at pulling off a monumental upset.

After an incredible win last week Michigan has a delicious glazed donut lined up this Saturday. At least that’s what Brady Hoke said.

Akron doesn’t exactly present much of a challenge, so instead of doing the normal ‘Michigan will win if…’ I’m gonna outline some things I’d like to see from our beloved Wolverines this weekend.

First of all, zero big plays allowed. And by big plays I mean anything over 20 yards. Michigan has surrendered a handful of big plays in two games and while Notre Dame is a good team this is something that has to stop. Akron will be overmatched athletically but they still offer a good opportunity for Michigan to work on some minor issues. While zero big plays may seem a lofty goal, this is Akron for crying out loud.

Second, get some significant pressure with just the front four. Michigan’s front hasn’t exactly instilled much confidence in me with their ability to get pressure so far. That lack of pressure didn’t hurt us against Central Michigan, but they let Tommy Rees sit back and pick the secondary apart to the tune of 314 yards with several plays over 20-yards. If Michigan wants to compete for the Big Ten title they will need to establish their front four as a group who can get after the quarterback without the aid of Mattison’s wonderful blitz packages. I’d like to see five or six sacks from the defensive line this weekend, on non-blitz plays.

Jehu Chesson has shown he can block, but let's see what he can do with some balls thrown his way (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Third, find a reliable receiver not named Jeremy Gallon. I’m a big fan of Gallon, and an even bigger one after last Saturday’s game. But the reality is that better teams will catch on that Gardner doesn’t throw to anyone else and that could come back to bite us in conference play. Hopes rested on Amara Darboh’s shoulders (and hands) coming into the season, but he’s out for the year. Redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, while able to throw crushing blocks, has yet to show us anything, though not completely his fault. Devin Funchess and Drew Dileo have been solid, but when push comes to shove Gallon is the only one Gardner turns to. That has to change.

Now I don’t expect Gardner to find someone he trusts completely in big time situations right away but I’d like to see him spread the ball around a bit more. Brady Hoke said C’Sonte York and D’Mario Williams may get some run, and that would be nice, but at the very least I’d like to see people outside of Gallon getting some significant targets. If Michigan’s offensive is to be truly dynamic they need to find another big time playmaker outside of Gallon. Akron provides a great chance to experiment with some of the other receivers. I’d like to see three or four guys with more targets and catches than Gallon this week.

Finally, run the ball well without the aid of Gardner. Now, this isn’t Denard Robinson’s offense anymore but Gardner can still make big plays with his legs, and I don’t want that to stop. However, he can’t be the only running threat. We’ve already seen what happens when that is the case. Fitz Toussaint has looked better than last year but take out his big runs and his yards per carry is rather unimpressive. True, the offensive line is young and inexperienced and Notre Dame had quite possibly the best front we’ll see all year but we didn’t do much against CMU either. I’d like to see the running backs average at least 4 yards per carry, not taking into account any runs over 20 yards.

Michigan should walk away with this one and I’d expect to see Shane Morris and Co. the entire second half, so it will be another chance to see what the backups are made of as well.