Last year the UMass Minutemen pulled off their first FBS win by knocking off the Akron Zips, 22-14, on the road. It was a benchmark win for the program that has since double that number, and will be looking to triple it on Saturday in Foxborough. It took a great game from the Minutemen defense and a super-human punting effort from Colter Johnson to get the win last year, but whether or not that will be enough in 2013 is hard to say.
Akron is not the same Akron that went winless in the MAC last year. No, this Akron team has won games and even looked impressive in its losses. Kyle Pohl has energized the offense from the quarterback position, throwing for 300 yards twice this season, including a two-touchdown, 311-yard performance in a four-point loss to Michigan early in the year.
Much like UMass, Akron has a win over Miami (Ohio). But unlike UMass, Akron has managed to beat another MAC team, beating Kent State on Nov. 2, 16-7. Also unlike UMass, Akron was able to get the job done against FCS opponent James Madison in Week 2. Just from looking at the schedule, Akron feels like a team that won't stumble in a game like this.
However, as we have seen in many years of MAC football, anything is possible.
With that in mind, here are some keys to the game for both teams.
For UMass to win...
They will need to run the ball and run it well. Lorenzo Woodley has come on in recent weeks and show the potential to be an absolute hoss in the backfield. 38 carries? No biggie. LoZo (I named him that, you're welcome) can handle it. A.J. Doyle and Mike Wegzyn are basically a toss up at the quarterback position, so it will be important that whoever does go under center stays upright, gets the ball to his back, and takes care of the football.
The defense will need to simply not get gashed. This offense is not capable of hanging with teams that score in the 30s. If the defense keeps it in the 24-point area, UMass could have a shot at it.
For Akron to win...
The Zips will need to employ a similar game plan they used to beat Miami, but without giving up six sacks. UMass can bring a bit of pressure so the offensive line will need to keep Pohl upright. Down the field, there aren't too many interception threats as long as the ball is thrown well. Keeping the time of possession in its favor should also do Akron some favors.
Defensively, they need to load up against the run and take their chanes with M.J. Doygzyn (OK, that one didn't work) in the passing game. Woodley, Jamal Wilson and Stacey Bedell are all good runners and you should see at least two of them, depending on who is actually healthy come Saturday. Tajae Sharpe is a threat, but he's more of an 10-15 yard catch guy than a big play threat.
In my semi-professional opinion, I believe Akron wins this game. Akron has won, it took Michigan to the wire, and I have to believe they won't be willing to start this little rivalry 0-2 against a program that is yet to really find its footing.
Akron wins, 27-17.