The Akron Zips rarely find themselves ahead early in games. Actually, in 2013, "rarely" should read "never". In their first four games, the Zips had been outscored 41-3 in the first quarter. Even in their win over James Madison, they trailed 13-0 after the first 15 minutes.
Despite these deficits, Akron beat JMU, lost at Michigan on the final play, and was in the game with Louisiana until the final seconds. So, how much of a luxury would it be for Akron to actually be ahead in a game?
That's where the Zips found themselves today against the Bowling Green Falcons on a sunny afternoon at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio. Akron scored touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, held BGSU to a punt and a field goal in the Falcons' first two drives, and led 14-3 with only 9:21 of game time elapsed.
For head coach Terry Bowden and his players, this development had to be a dream come true, especially on the road against one of the Mid-American Conference's top teams. Unfortunately for the 'Roo, the dream eventually turned into something more akin to a nightmare. Akron did not score again and Bowling Green scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions beginning late in the first half. Those 28 points allowed the Falcons to walk away with a 31-14 victory and to prolong Akron's losing streak against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
That streak has now reached 26 games. That road losing streak that's been going on since 2008? It's now 29 games.
Akron forced Bowling Green to punt on the initial possession of the game without allowing a first down. Akron faced an immediate third-down of their own on their first drive, but when Kyle Pohl tried a pass to Jerrod Dillard, Falcon defensive back Cameron Truss was called for pass interference. Pohl wasted no time from there; on the next play, he sailed a pass to L.T. Smith down the right sideline. Smith had gotten behind his defender, gathered in the pass and raced for a 51-yard touchdown.
The Falcons responded by revving up their offense. Travis Greene ran to the right side twice for 14 and 32 yards on consecutive carries, then Matt Johnson passed twice to get BGSU to the Akron 12. The Zips' defense held there, and Tyler Tate had to come in for a 29-yard field goal. The kick was good, but Akron still lead, 7-3.
On their second drive, Akron traveled the 47 yards from their own 28 to the BGSU 25 in nine plays. There, they faced a 3rd-and-5, and Pohl attempted a pass to Tyrell Goodman for a first down. It fell incomplete but again, Truss was the culprit of a big penalty. The holding call against him gave Akron another first down, and four plays later, Pohl ran a keeper to the left side and scored a three-yard touchdown. With 5:39 left in the first quarter, the Zips led the game 14-3.
The next six possessions in the game all ended in punts. Bowling Green could not get any consistency going on offense, while the Falcon defense was beginning to exert its will against Akron. The turning point of the game came on the final of these six drives. BGSU downed a Brian Schmiedebusch punt at the Akron 2, but Akron drove 62 yards in 12 plays to get to the Falcons' 36 yard line. After two incompletions and a run that gained nothing, Akron faced a 4th-and-10 with 4:58 left in the half. Bowden had the Zips line up as if they were going for the first down, but then Pohl stepped back and tried to execute a pooch punt.
Emphasis on the word TRIED.
The ball went sideways to the right and traveled out of bounds at the BGSU 35 for a grand total of one yard. Johnson was under constant pressure in the first half from Akron's pass rush, and it was no different on this drive. He was even sacked twice on the ten-play march. Yet somehow, he led the Falcons downfield and, on 2nd-and-15, connected with Shaun Joplin for a 22-yard touchdown that cut Akron's lead to 14-10 with 1:41 left in the first half.
The catch by Joplin was a sight to behold. He juggled the ball but managed to bring it down, then fought off a couple of tackles before cruising into the end zone. This would be the first of four consecutive scoring drives for the Falcons.
Akron meekly ran out the final 1:41 in the first half and then failed to get a first down on the opening possession of the second half. BGSU took advantage. Starting from their own 31, the Falcons used a smart mix of Travis Greene runs and Matt Johnson passes to travel 69 yards in 11 plays. Most of Johnson's passes were short; in fact, between runs and pass receptions, Greene touched the ball on seven of the drive's first eight plays. When Bowling Green got to the Akron 2, William Houston came into the game and immediately got the ball. He rumbled for his sixth touchdown of the year, and BGSU had its first lead of the game at 17-14.
Bowling Green took advantage yet again when Akron had to punt after four plays on their next drive. It took just five plays to get to Akron's 30, and that's where the Falcons produced perhaps the most noteworthy play of the game. Johnson dropped back to pass and was pressured again. He scrambled, trying to find someone open and eventually saw Travis Greene. In no position to throw a normal pass, Johnson flipped the ball sideways to Greene, who took the ball and zig-zagged his way to the end zone. The 30-yard score made the score 24-14.
As the third quarter ended, Akron finally got another good drive going, and it looked as if they might get back into the game. Thanks in part to another costly penalty against the Falcon defense, Akron ended up with a 1st-and-goal at the BGSU 9. Two plays later, they were at the 1 for the deciding play of the game. Pohl looked right and attempted a pass to Anthony Ritossa, but Gabe Martin (who was returning from injury after missing last week's game) got his fingers on the ball and knocked it down.
On the subsequent field-goal try on fourth down, Robert Stein nailed the left upright on his 17-yard field goal attempt. The miss was the fifth in seven attempts by Stein. Had the kick been good, Akron would have been down by just one score.
Instead, Bowling Green was able to unleash Travis Greene one more time. He carried nine times on the drive for 37 yards; a tenth carry which went ten yards was called back by penalty. Andre Givens also had a big run, as he pulled off a highlight-reel sideline-to-sideline carry that ultimately gave the Falcons 18 yards. Johnson had three big completions on the drive, including two on third down to Ryan Burbrink and Chris Gallon. Greene finished the drive, which took 8:01 off the game clock, with an 11-yard run right up the middle for the game's final points and a 31-14 lead.
Bowling Green outgained Akron 396-296 despite allowing 134 yards in the first quarter. After that frame, the Falcons held a 330-162 edge in yards. Akron also led in time of possession at halftime, but BGSU held the ball for over 21 minutes in the second half to end the game with a 36:07-23:53 margin. The Falcons also ended the game with 9 conversions in 14 third-down attempts and four scores in five trips to the Akron red zone.
That fifth trip to the red zone that resulted in no score ended BGSU's perfect mark in the red zone during their wins this season, but was it meaningful? That red zone trip today came in the game's final seconds, when the Falcons were intentionally running out the clock.
Meanwhile, Akron was just 6-for-13 on third down and only 1-for-2 in the red zone. For the season, BGSU is 22-for-26 inside their opponents' 20 while their opponents have scored on just eight of 17 red-zone trips.
The offensive stars of the game were Johnson and Greene for Bowling Green. Johnson completed 18 of 24 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Greene ran the ball 24 times for 145 yards and also had four receptions for 71 yards. In all, he had 28 touches and 216 yards. He also had two touchdowns. Joplin was BGSU's leading receiver with five catches, 78 yards and a score of his own.
Akron's Kyle Pohl did not play poorly, but he could not hit another big downfield pass after that first one to Smith. He ended the game with 22 completions on 37 attempts but only 199 yards. He did have that one touchdown pass and no interceptions, and he also rushed six times for 26 yards and a touchdown.
Jawon Chisholm had just nine carries for 28 yards, and I'm just floored by that. The biggest reason, it appeared, for Chisholm having so few carries was that Akron was behind so quickly in previous games, but that did not apply today. So why didn't he get the ball more? Zach D'Orazio was also mostly invisible. He caught just three passes for 25 yards, with the longest of those going for 12 yards.
Akron will try once again to finally beat an FBS team when they host Ohio next weekend at InfoCision Stadium. Their record stands at 1-4 overall and 0-1 in the MAC.
Bowling Green concludes their three-game home stretch with a MAC game against Massachusetts next Saturday. The Falcons are currently 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the MAC. A win next Saturday would allow BGSU to be 3-0 in league play when they welcome rival Toledo to Perry Stadium in four weeks.