Akron Zips head coach Terry Bowden described this week as being the hunted when his team hosts Arkansas Pine-Bluff in its home opener Saturday.
It doesn’t matter how Bowden puts it, but anything is better than having to play another program at the same caliber as the Penn State Nittany Lions again.
The Zips entered Happy Valley open minded and left disgruntled after the 52-0 beatdown by the reigning Big 10 champions, who totaled 569 yards of total offense and allowed Akron to record under 160 yards.
Penn State proved that its opponent can not pull off the occasional upset. Yes, James Franklin’s squad is poised to reach the College Football Playoff this season, but Akron has won once since 1979 against ranked programs, losing 28.
In the three games with teams in the top 25 the last three years, including then No. 24 Western Michigan in 2016, the Zip have combined for 17 points.
Akron has never hosted or played UAPB in its history. The Lions, who have had the same head coach for 10 years running in Monte Coleman, won 23-10 over Morehouse College last week at Golden Lion Stadium.
When Akron Has The Ball
Redshirt senior quarterback Thomas Woodson, in his first start back after sustaining a shoulder injury that kept him out of action for all of last season, was 12-of-23 passing for 71 yards and one interception against the Nittany Lions.
The three other quarterbacks who played last week, including redshirt junior Robbie Kelley and redshirt sophomore Nick Johns, combined for 2-of-6 for 15 yards.
The fourth passer, redshirt freshman Kato Nelson, recorded a team-high 39 yards on nine rushes. Senior running back Warren Ball posted 27 yards on 13 carries.
Woodson’s strong arm that has yet to be showcased is bound to come out against the Lions. This game will be a good chance for Woodson to find chemistry with the new faces at wide receiver, as both Jerome Lane and JoJo Natson have left for the NFL.
When Arkansas Pine-Bluff Has The Ball
The Lions haven’t won a season opener since 2012, but it was done with a 23-point comeback in the second half.
Junior running back KeShawn Williams rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, while redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Duncan was 14-of-25 for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Akron is looking for a strong showing from its defense, which features preseason first-team All-MAC junior linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, who also was named the preseason MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Zips allowed Penn State running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Saquon Barkley to rush for 172 yards on just 14 carries.
It’s the ninth season the Zips have played at InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field. With a kick off of 6:30 p.m. EST, Akron has accumulated a record of 18-30 during that span.
Bowden clearly watched the slate of upsets that occurred in week one, including Liberty’s 48-45 win over Baylor and Howard, led by freshman quarterback Caylin Newton — Cam Newton’s younger brother, topping UNLV despite being a 45-point underdog.
The former Auburn head coach knows the importance of not taking an opponent seriously, citing what can happen as a result. Akron isn’t predicted to win the MAC East Division, but finishing 5-7 and not earning bowl eligibility last season can do wonders for a team vying for a turn around.
That can’t happen if winning Saturday is out of the question. The Zips host Iowa State next week so it’s not going to get any easier.
But again, it’s UAPB, a team that won once last season. Expect Akron to pick up its first non-conference victory.