Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cardinal Preview: Akron

vs.

Ball State vs. Akron
Location: The Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH
Game Time: 1:00pm
Television: None

So far, 2008 has been the Year of the Cardinal. Ball State is riding a tidal wave of momentum with a 2-0 record, and a win over Navy on national television. Looming in the wings, is a game at Indiana and according to ESPN's Mike Gottfried, the Cards' toughest game on the schedule, and their biggest hurdle to going a perfect 12-0 on the season and having an outside chance at a major bowl.

This is all good news for Akron and coach J.D. Brookhart. The Cardinals are confident. They are opening their MidAmerican Conference schedule on the road. There is an in-state rivalry game against a BCS opponent waiting in the wings. Despite all their successes so far and the ease of this game on paper, this should give Cardinals fans pause as they evaluate the chances of Ball State this weekend. Here to give you the skinny, another OTP Cardinal Preview. This time around, the Akron Zips.

The Basics:
Ball State University Cardinals
Location: Muncie, IN
Record: 2-0 (0-0)
Last Week: W vs. Navy 35-23

Akron University Zips
Location: Akron, OH
Record: 1-1 (0-0)
Last Week: W vs. Syracuse 42-28

Offense: For Akron, the good news is they return 8 starters from their 2007 offensive unit. The bad news is those 8 starters made up a unit that wasn't very good. The 07 Zips managed just 311 yards of offense per game, good for last in the MAC. Individually, nothing was a standout attack for them, as they finished 11th in both rushing and passing as well. That helped in their quest for finishing last in the MAC East.

The 08 Zips feature an offensive line that is experienced (4 returning starters) and large (average of 6-4 302 lbs.). At the skill positions they are deep at running back and long on potential, but short on proven ability save for Alex Allen, who went for 103 yards and 2 scores last week. The same can be said for their receiving corps, though their tight ends are paced by Merce Poindexter, who averaged 10.2 yards per catch in the anemic 2007 offense. Andre Jones, a converted safety in the offseason, looks to be a prime target, as he went for 98 yards and two scores on 7 catches at Syracuse.

There is reason for optimism offensively though, as the receiver stable is long on JUCO transfers and freshman, and they'll be receiving balls from QB Chris Jacquemain, who enters the season as the full-time starter after splitting time there last fall. Jacquemain figures to have plenty of time to throw the ball behind a strong offensive line. The success of this offense will rest solely on his shoulders and whether or not he can deliver. And so far he has, going for 227 yards and 2 scores at Wisconsin, and 260 and 3 TDs against Syracuse.

For the Cardinals, it's the same story, just a different week. Nate Davis continues to excel, completing passes at an 80%+ clip, Dante Love leads the nation in all purpose yards, Darius Hill provides an explosive threat across the middle, and MiQuale Lewis continues to exhibit tough, quick, precise rushing. Life is good for the Cardinal offense, and so far in 2008 they've only been stopped when they turn the ball over.
Advantage: Not even close. The Akron offense is getting better and looks to be drastically improved though.

Defense: Just like the offense, the story of the Akron defense is potential. After getting gashed last year to the tune of 183 yards per game on the ground, the Zips had no choice but to get better. Enter Iowa transfer nosetackle Ryan Bain. The Zips lost plenty on defense, especially in the secondary, but Brookhart believes this to be an improved unit capable of holding opponents when it counts.

So far this season, the Akron defense has been more of the same. Teams are running, running, running, and running some more. Syracuse to the tune of 218 yards, and Wisconsin to the tune of 404. When it comes to the pass, they've been moderately more successful, holding both opponents under 200 yards, but its a skew statistic, as Wisconsin only attempted 10 passes and Syracuse just isn't that good (and still scored 3 passing TDs). This defense is untested against an offense like Ball State's.

For Ball State, the approach for the Navy game seemed to be a bend but don't break mentality, and it worked well. The Cardinals gave up yardage to the Middies, but this was an option attack and unlike anything the Cardinals had seen or will see this season. Akron is a more straight forward approach, but the offensive line concerns me. The Cardinals will need to get pressure on Jacquemain to force poor decisions and potential turnovers, something Wisconsin and Syracuse were unable to do.
Advantage: Expect MiQuale Lewis to expose Akron for the weak defense that they are.

Coaching: J.D. Brookhart finds himself in a similar position in Akron that Brady Hoke found in Muncie 4 years ago with a team in search of success but lacking the tools to get there. Brookhart is getting there, slowly but surely, just as Hoke did. He's showed himself to be a disciplinarian, a hard worker, and a good recruiter. He has the potential to make a name for himself and put Akron back on the map. To get there, he should follow Brady Hoke's trail, as he's done it at Ball State.
Advantage: Both good coaches, but Hoke is just further along the journey.

Intangibles: They say special teams wins ball games and you'll see some of the nation's best in this game. Akron features two gems in this department, as Bryan Williams and Andre Jones handle the return duties for the Zips. They are electrifying and exciting, and will help Akron work with shorter fields should the Cardinals have to punt. Equally dangerous is Dante Love for the Cardinals, who leads the nation in all-purpose yardage. Of concern and intangible-ey nature is the fact that is the Cardinals first trip on the road this season and Akron's first game at home.
Advantage: By a small margin, and it being the Cards first trip on the road

Mascot:
Akron:

Zippy... the... uh... big gay kangaroo. This thing is supposed to intimidate me? I would expect it to be tapping it's big feet in the men's restroom under the stall door at me instead. And nice sweatshirt and foam finger, douchebags.

Ball State:

Charile Cardinal. Tall. Fierce. Feathered. And most importantly, shirtless, showing off his big feathered pecs. Calm down Zippy. The suit is a bitch to clean.
Advantage: Easily

Overall: Gay kangaroos aside, this game worries me for a couple of reasons, most notably the fact that Akron's biggest weakness (its run defense) is not the focal point of Ball State's offense. And it isn't like the Akron secondary are world beaters, but I hope Brady Hoke and Stan Parrish are as smart as I think they are and let MiQuale Lewis run roughshod over the Zips and their mascot. Expect a big day for Lewis, and for Davis and company to pick their spots and pick them well and slice the defense up. Akron is simply overmatched and the talent gap too large to predict an upset, but the road game and the Indiana game next week makes me think this one will be closer than it should be, but still a nice win for the Cardinals. Were I a betting man, I'd take the Cardinals to cover the 6 point spread.

Prediction:
Ball State: 35
Akron: 21

2 comments:

Edge said...

While I must agree on the lameness of the "Zip", no mascot can out-lame the Indiana State Sycamores. "Don't come into our house! If you do, be aware when the fall approaches, we will shower you with our devastating and punishing leaves. An umbrella or a hoodie will protect you from our wrath though, so kindly leave those at home so that we may reign supreme." Or something along those lines.

GrossSuperman said...

The reason that the Zip is so lame is that it is actually a female. I shit you not.