The Akron Zips play their final of four non-conference games during the 2013 season on Saturday evening when they host the University of Louisiana (at Lafayette) at InfoCision Stadium. Game time is 6:00pm (ET), and the contest will be televised online at ESPN3.com.
This is the first-ever meeting of the Zips and the Louisiana Rajin' Cajuns, who play in the Sun Belt Conference. The Cajuns come into this game off of their first win of the 2013 season; it was also a historic win, as it was the 500th victory in Louisiana program history. Their first two games came against BCS-level teams, as they lost by double-digits to both Arkansas and Kansas State.
Meanwhile, Akron will try once again to end a 24-game losing streak to Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Zips haven't won a game against an FBS opponent since beating Buffalo to close the 2010 season. Their single wins in each of the last three seasons (including 2013) have come against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) schools.
Last week, Akron played one of their best games in recent memory and nearly ended the streak in the most unbelievable way possible -- they came within four yards of beating the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before falling 28-24. Now, fans wonder how Akron will respond to the emotional loss. The game could act as a springboard to a much more competitive season than people previously imagined, or this week could feature one of those dreaded emotional hangovers, where the team in question comes out flat.
We will all find out after kickoff, but Akron fans certainly hope that playing in front of a friendly crowd will help energize the Zips.
One thing is for sure -- Akron will have its hands full with Louisiana's offense on Saturday evening. The same group that constantly harassed Devin Gardner and forced him into four turnovers last week will need to do much the same against a unit which put up 70 points last week. Yes, those 70 points came against Nicholls State, but NSU also won on the road against a Mid-American Conference school (Western Michigan).
Offense for the Cajuns goes through junior quarterback Terrance Broadway. Broadway is as much a dual-threat as you will find anywhere in the country. In 2012, he passed for 2,842 yards and 17 touchdowns while also rushing for 769 yards (on just 119 carries) and nine touchdowns. His 3,611 yards of total offense were a school record, and he was named Most Valuable Player of the New Orleans Bowl. This season, Broadway already has 718 passing yards and three scoring passes. While he's struggled to gain yards on the ground, with just 83 yards in three games, he does have two touchdown runs.
Broadway's primary throwing target is senior wide receiver Darryl Surgent. Surgent, who has 25 career starts coming into this weekend, has just eight catches for 55 yards so far this season. However, he is second on Louisiana's all-time career all-purpose yards list and is dangerous as a kick returner. In fact, one of his four returns this season has gone for a 100-yard touchdown. The other primary target for Broadway will be Jamal Robinson. Three of his four career starts have been this season, and he's made them count as Robinson leads Louisiana in catches (11), yards (141) and touchdowns (2) so far. Against Kansas State, he made six catches (including a touchdown) for 83 yards.
However, Louisiana's running game is perhaps their most dangerous facet. The Ragin' Cajuns are averaging 239 yards per game. Last week against Nicholls State, they posted 456 rushing yards on 53 carries, and it seemed like none of the runners they put on the field could be stopped. Broadway ran five times for 42 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. Starter Alonzo Harris carried just twice, but those went for a combined 75 yards. He took the ball for a 65-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. His backup, Elijah McGuire, totaled 137 yards on just nine carries. He scored three times on runs of 4, 11 and 42 yards. Two other runners went over 50 yards, and eight of the team's ten touchdowns in the 70-7 win came via the running game.
This has to be a concern for an Akron defense that, despite their solid play against Michigan, still allowed 425 yards to the Wolverines. That number is right in line with what Akron's defense has given up throughout the season to date, and four of the Zips' six takeaways thus far occurred in that one game. Specifically against the run, Akron is giving up 4.3 yards per carry, but they have also had trouble against running quarterbacks. Last week, Gardner ran ten times for 102 yards. Obviously, Broadway isn't Gardner, but Louisiana will be hard to beat if Akron cannot find a way to slow that part of the Cajuns' game down.
On the other side of the ball, the Zips' hopes revolve around defending MAC East Offensive Player of the Week Kyle Pohl. Akron's sophomore quarterback threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns last week. He also threw two interceptions and completed only 25 of 49 passes (just north of 50%). The yards and attempts were more than he had in his first two games combined.
Pohl's best weapon is likely Zach D'Orazio, who leads the team with 11 receptions, 120 yards and three touchdowns. All of those have come in the last two games; against Michigan, D'Orazio was constantly getting open and ended the tilt with six catches, 97 yards and a touchdown. Pohl will also find L.T. Smith. While Smith has no touchdowns yet, he made an impact last week, too. In Ann Arbor, he had a 125-yard day on just five catches.
On the ground, Louisiana must focus on Jawon Chisholm and Conor Hundley. Chisholm is the primary back but has just 155 yards in three games. He posted 87 yards against James Madison before totaling 58 last week. His 15 carries versus Michigan were a team-high for the season. Hundley is more of a change-up, short-yardage back. After earning 50 yards on ten carries in the season opener against Central Florida, he has just 14 carries and 49 yards in the last two games.
Louisiana's defense is not what one would consider great, so there are certainly opportunities to move the ball. The Cajuns gave up 292 yards rushing to Arkansas and have given up over 140 in each of their other two games (including 141 to Nicholls State). They allowed 305 passing yards to Kansas State and 230 on just 23 attempts to Arkansas. UL's leading tackler is Justin Anderson. His 32 include 3.5 tackles for loss, which is also a team-best. Anderson also has an interception, which he returned 58 yards. Sean Thomas, with 22, is the only other UL defender with more than 12 tackles.
So...I want to believe in Akron. I really do. Unfortunately, Louisiana is probably the wrong team to face at this juncture. Even though the game is in Akron, the Zips are facing an experienced team who is used to winning and who comes into town with a powerful offense. And let's be honest -- those four takeaways last week were, by far, the biggest reason why Akron was competitive against Michigan. Three of those four turned away likely Michigan scores. While turnovers are an important part of football, some level of luck is involved in getting those takeaways. You simply cannot rely on that as your primary way to win games.
I also need to see Pohl be even more efficient than he was against Michigan, and it would be really, really good if Chisholm would get more touches.
This doesn't have the feel of a walk-away for Louisiana, and I think Akron can win. However, it remains to be seen who shows up -- the team that was embarrassed by Central Florida, or the team that (almost) embarrassed Michigan? The answer to that question will largely determine the direction in which this game goes.