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Akron Looks to Get Better In Bowden’s Second Season

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(This is the fourth in a series of previews on the 2013 opponents for Louisiana’s Ragin Cajuns.  Today: Akron)

Many FBS schools have a period in their history when their fans were singing the blues.  The Cajuns certainly had that in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

They’re trying to find a way to stop singing in Akron, Ohio.

In the last four seasons, Akron has a record of 6-42.  In the last three seasons, 3-33.  They haven’t had a win over an FBS opponent since the final game of 2010.

Former Auburn and North Alabama head coach Terry Bowden was brought in last season to try and reverse the fortunes of the Zips.  But even he knew the talent level would have to increase significantly in order for his team to compete.

The result was another 1-11 season, with the only win over FCS member Morgan State.  They had a couple of close calls, falling in overtime to FIU, 41-38 and dropping one to a good Ohio team, 34-28.  The Zips showed they could score points, scoring 28 or more on four occasions.  But they gave up points in bunches, giving up 35 points or more on nine different occasions.

While Akron returns seven starters on either side of the football, there are plenty of young players who are going to get a look. 

OFFENSE

There’s been a quarterback battle in Akron, but sophomore Kyle Pohl is the leader for the job, based on his one year of previous experience in running Bowden’s offense.  Pohl appeared in six games a year ago (38-58, 366, 5td).  Colorado junior transfer Nick Hirschman is challenging for the spot.  He started two games for the Buffaloes.

One place where there is no such battle is at running back, where Javon Chisholm has narrowly missed out on being a 1,000 yard rusher each of his first two seasons.  He averaged over five yards per carry last season.  He averaged 15 carries per game last year.  Sophomore Conor Hundley  (279 yards, 3 td in 2012) backs up Chisholm.

Akron’s offense relies heavily on the short passing game and the Zips have returning talent.  Dee Frieson, Keith Sconiers and Jerrod Dillard combined for over 100 catches a year ago.  Stretching the field is not something Akron did much of last year.  Only three players had a catch for more than 40 yards and no one had as many as 56.

The offensive line returns three starters and has added a junior college guard.  The guys up front did a good job opening holes for Chisholm.

DEFENSE

As evidenced by the scores from last season, this unit needs to get better in a hurry.  The defense gave up more than 35 points per game a season ago.  Three of the four down linemen return, as does one linebacker and three defensive backs.  Akron’s defense was an equal opportunity offender a year ago, allowing 211 yards rushing and 238 passing.  In addition, they forced 14 fewer turnovers than the offense committed.   Colorado State transfer C. J. James, who started 15 games for the Rams in two seasons, could add a boost on the defensive front.  Another transfer, linebacker C. J. Mizell (Washington State) gives the Zips a talent upgrade there.  Overall, this group has a long way to go, but between eligible transfers and a couple of JUCO’s, defensive coordinator Chuck Amato has more to work with than he did a year ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Akron was among the worst in the nation in kick returns last year, average 16.6 ypg.  They’ve got to get better in that regard.  Kicker Robert Stein was 9-12 in FG last year.  Sophomore Zach Paul is the leading candidate at the punter’s spot.

OUTLOOK

It’s hard to imagine Akron will be as bad in Bowden’s second year as they were the previous three seasons.  The talent has been upgraded and the Zips showed last year they can move the football.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  This program still has a long way to go.  Chisholm is a solid back and Akron’s offensive philosophy will get them down the field.  But special teams are subpar, and while it would hard to imagine Akron’s defense being as bad as it was a year ago, there’s only so much improving you can do in one year.  Still, you have to feel  there are a few wins for this team this year.  It’s up to the Cajuns to stay focused and make sure they aren’t one of those wins.

(information from Phil Steele’s college preview and gozips.com contributed to this story.)

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