That was the number of total points scored in Tuesday night’s defensive slugfest in Peden Stadium. No touchdowns. Just field goals. But the Bobcats should be satisfied, earning a trip to Detroit to participate in the MAC Championship Game as a result of the victory. Takeaways from Ohio’s 9-3 win over Akron:
For Ohio to win the MAC, its defense must play at its highest level.
Outside of an extreme outlier in a surprising 56-54 loss to Texas State in week one, Ohio has been one of the best defenses in the MAC and the country (top-10 in rushing yards allowed per game).
Since the Bobcat Bowl, the Bobcats have not allowed more than 30 points once this season. Frank Solich’s unit was playing at its highest level against Akron. The Zips only gained 226 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per pass and three per run. Most impressively, Ohio shut down Akron without forcing a turnover.
That being said, the Bobcats’ next opponent going forward is not Akron, but either Toledo or Western Michigan, two of the highest-functioning offenses in the conference and perhaps the nation. Regardless of their next opponent, Ohio has a plethora of weapons that it must stop.
It may not be easy, but if the defense can perform similarly to its display Tuesday night, Ohio could become the third team to upset a 12-0 program in the MAC Championship Game since 2008 if WMU makes it to Detroit or once again derail the Rockets’ quest for their first MAC football title since 2004.
Akron’s offense collapsed in Thomas Woodson’s absence.
Impressively, Akron did not commit a single turnover in the loss, but a lack of offense caused the Zips to look completely inept.
Due to several quarterback injuries, Terry Bowden was forced to start wide receiver Tyrell Goodman at quarterback, who finished the contest 12-of-27 for 131 yards. Prior to Woodson’s injury, Akron ran a pass-happy offense — and it was effective. The Zips started 5-3 and were capable of putting up numbers on the scoreboard early in the season.
Woodson passed for over 300 yards in five of seven games and threw for two touchdowns in all but two starts. Since increasing the use of the running game in recent weeks, Akron’s offense has been unable to revert to the same rhythm and it showed on Tuesday night.
Louie Zervos is one of the most reliable kickers in the nation.
At 81.5 percent, Zervos has the 30th-highest field goal percentage in the nation and highest in the MAC. But the Bobcats have provided him an FBS-most 27 attempts, and Zervos has succeeded on 22, second-most in the nation.
He started the year 13-of-14 through three games and stepped up once again when the Bobcat offense struggled to pass the pylon. The freshman was perfect on the night, hitting all three attempts, including a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter. But most crucial was his field goal with 2:59 remaining, requiring Akron to score a touchdown on its final drive, one that reached Ohio territory.
The Zips came as close as 24 yards and a dropped touchdown from glory, but Zervos’ reliability prevented Akron from extending the game into the overtime period on the possession.
Akron must prove 2015 wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
When Terry Bowden took over the program in 2012, he fared 1-11. But a couple seasons later, Bowden transformed Akron into a winning program, finishing 8-5 in 2015 with the program’s first bowl win.
If this story sounds familiar, it is. Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck (also from 1-11 to program’s first bowl win) has been lauded all season for changing the culture of the Broncos and racking up wins in Kalamazoo. But unlike Akron’s MAC West counterpart, Bowden didn’t continue to build upon the program’s best season in history.
Instead, the 5-3 Zips dropped four-straight and are unlikely to reach a bowl in 2016. The program remains at a higher-level than it was pre-2012, but Bowden must work on recruiting and player development to ensure the Zips’ run of success wasn’t as short-lived as one season.
Ohio has the opportunity to win the MAC, but...
The offense must play better than it has since Quinton Maxwell took over as quarterback. In college football, upsets are easiest when the underdog has the capability of unleashing an explosive offense. Just ask Texas State. But if playing Western Michigan, an all-around dominant team in 2016, Ohio must perform better than 299 yards to earn a victory.
Maxwell has yet to pass for over 221 yards and must have the game of his season to win the conference. If rematching Toledo, Solich must capitalize on the same gameplan that led the Bobcats to a 31-26 victory in the Glass Bowl. Until Friday, all Ohio can do is speculate who its opponent will be for the MAC’s most heralded game.