At long last, Akron will have an opportunity to test themselves against a team that on paper appears to be evenly matched. After the drastic shift in the talent level of the first two opponents, a rugged Wisconsin and an overmatched VMI, Akron has gotten to the meat of the schedule beginning with Marshall.
Since the program's inception in 1895, the Marshall Thundering Herd has led a nomadic existence bouncing around from conference to conference. MAC fans should be quite familiar based on their two separate stints the most recent being 1997-2005. During that stretch, Marshall would win an impressive five MAC championships, including four in a row.
The modern version of the Marshall Thundering Herd is only slightly less impressive as they have gone bowling the last three consecutive years including wins over Maryland, Northern Illinois, and Connecticut.
This streak of success has been overseen by the calming hand of John “Doc” Holliday. and this season Marshall looks to continue the success. They come into the matchup already 1-0 after winning their opening weekend game against Morgan St 62-0.
Akron coach Terry Bowden said in his weekly press conference that not much could be learned from Marshall’s opening weekend due to the game being over after the first quarter, so the Akron coaching staff and Zips fans are going into the matchup blind.
Preseason polls and stats from previous seasons will show a few important trends to follow for the upcoming game for the Zips. First is that Marshall’s offensive line will be a formidable obstacle for Akron. Two Marshall players made the preseason Conference-USA first team in Michael Selby and Clint Van Horn. Akron hasn’t had much success in generating much pressure on the quarterback, compiling a measly three sacks through the first two games with one of those coming from a linebacker.
Winning the line of scrimmage will be important for Akron defensively because Marshall will be relying on a list of playmakers who are unaccustomed to a big role. The top two receivers from last season’s Marshall team have departed, leaving behind a group that has only one player, Deon-Tay McManus, who has caught more than 35 passes coming into the season. To take pressure off the inexperienced receiving group, expect Doc to call the number of another preseason first team selection in tight end Ryan Yurachek who had an impressive season a year ago.
If pressure isn’t generated by the Akron line, it will allow for sophomore quarterback Chase Litton to get comfortable. Doc Holliday has been known for high flying offenses and while Litton only has twelve starts to his name his talent shown through a year ago with 2,605 yards and I would expect another step forward.
Another trend to watch is how frequently Akron can get running back Warren Ball involved in the game, if at all. A week ago against Wisconsin, Ball was having a really effective game with 71 yards on seven carries before exiting with an injury. Bowden played coy when asked about Ball’s availability in his press conference so this is an obvious storyline to be revealed at the onset of the game.
The rest of the offense to this point in the season has been a tale of two games. In the first against VMI they predictably padded stats and looked impressive, while last week against an impressive Wisconsin team Akron could hardly muster over 200 yards. One thing did remain consistent between the two games however and it was Akron’s ability to maintain a solid average rushing at 5.2 against VMI and 4.2 against Wisconsin.
Obviously, quarterback Thomas Woodson and company will have to produce a balanced offense to control the clock for Akron as they look to limit the usually high-powered Marshall offense. A key target for Woodson to this point in the season has been receiver Jerome Lane who has piled up 239 yards, although 196 of those came against VMI.
Finally, another wrinkle in this game working against Akron is that Marshall boasts and impressive winning percentage at their current home Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Since the building opened in 1991, Marshall has gone 149-26 with many of those wins against MAC schools.
Akron looks to improve on their all-time record of 4-9 against Marshall Saturday at noon. The game can be found on the CBS Sports Network and on 1350 AM in Akron.