On Saturday, the undefeated Akron Zips (1-0, 0-0 MAC) will meet the mighty undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) on the Beaver Field of Combat in a great showdown of undefeateds, the home opener for heavily favored Penn State. The Zips are glowing after a 41-0 beatdown of Howard the Bison, and you know the story of the Croke Park Classic for the Lions, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (as the hacks say) to beat UCF 26-24.
I always get a big laugh out of that team nickname, the Zips. I think it must relate to the Erica Jong novel “Fear of Flying”, in which she describes a concept she refers to as “the zipless fuck”. I’ve sometimes referred to the Akron Zips here as the Ziplesses, you know. But I never knew the real story there until I read a blurb in BWI about how the Zips got their name. (Remind me to tell you the joke about the young Native American brave asking his father the heap big Chief about how he got his name.)
In the 1920s, Akron held a campus-wide contest in order to choose a team nickname. There were suggestions of the Tip Toppers, Rubbernecks, Hillbillies, Kangaroos, Cheveliers, and Golden Blue Devils, but they finally settled on the Zippers. Twenty-five years later, an athletic director shortened the nickname to Zips, and 40 years after that, they introduced the kangaroo mascot, which is one of only a few female mascots in college football.
So, let’s take a look at how the Rubbernecks stack up.
They’ve got a Bowden for a coach, Terry, to be precise. After getting canned by Auburn in 1998, he spent a decade in the broadcast booth before returning to coaching, first at North Alabama (2009 – 2011) and then Akron (2012 – present). Terry’s lifetime coaching record is a respectable 147-80-2, and it includes a 11-0 debut year at Auburn, but he hasn’t done so well with the Golden Blue Devils, posting a 7-18 record thus far. Terry worked at Akron once upon a previous time, as an assistant to Gerry Faust back in 1986.
The Tip Toppers sure as hell started this season on a good note, soundly trouncing the zipless Bison 41-0. In that debacle, they gained 513 yards, of which 400 were aerial. That leaves 113, which were rushing. Plenty of yards to go around. They protected the ball well, but were penalized for 70 yards. The Kangaroos scored on quick strikes for the most part; there were few sustained drives. The time of possession numbers look cockeyed in Howard’s favor, 33:25 to 26:35, for that reason.
Junior quarterback Kyle Pohl went 23-36 for 308 yards and four TDs before being relieved by freshman Tommy Woodson, from Monroeville, PA, who continued to make mincemeat out of the Howard secondary with a 5-8, 92 yard, one TD performance. Pohl is a threat to run, which he did to the tune of 48 yards, with a long of 18, and he was the leading rusher.
Akron has a collection of talented pass receivers, led by sophomore Mykel Traylor-Bennett (whose parents forgot how to spell Michael) with four catches for 89 yards and two TDs, senior L. T. Smith (whose parents couldn’t spell at all so they named him “L”) with five for 74 and one TD, and freshman Austin Wolf (3-70-1). The list goes on. Junior Zach d’Orazio had 4 for 37. And, look, they have a junior named Andrew Pratt who didn’t even play in the opener, but who has averaged 18.8 yards per catch back in 2013. They’re a pretty talented bunch, but does Pohl have the mustard to withstand the mighty Penn State pass rush and get the ball to them?
On the defensive side, who can judge the Ziplesses by what they did against Howard, already? It should give Penn State hope that Howard was able to post 148 rushing yards against them, but in the last outing against UCF, the Nittany Lions suuuuuuuucked at running the ball. This offensive line will be the butt of my big-butt humor for a while, I fear, and I think the rushing attack might well be anemic for a few weeks as a result. I think they’ll be putting the offense on Hack’s shoulders for a while, and I don’t expect that the running game will get on the tracks for several games, if at all, this season. That O-Line needs a lot of work. But I digress. The Bison had only 2.9 ypc, which fits the Woody Hayes/Bo Schembechler criterion for a decent run, but not this turkey’s.
The pass defense allowed only 68 yards of Bison passing. They have a pair of competent but not very fast corners, who will be eaten alive by the Hack Attack. I can see DaeSean Hamilton blowing by them in my mind as I write this.
I don’t see the Zips running the ball on this Nittany Lions defense, because they couldn’t even run much on Howard. So, I’ll be sanguinistic about that part of the show. Can they pass on Penn State? Damn right they can, unless there is decent pressure on Pohl. Stoops’ innovative and aggressive pass rush schemata last week suggests that they’ll get even more disruptive as the season moves along. But our secondary is mediocre, and they were seen letting some receivers get behind them whilst hanging around with their thumbs up their asses. I don’t see any vast improvement, and I’ll continue to criticize the performance of the secondary until I do. I think Pohl and his talented receivers will burn them a few times, just to prove my point.
In special teams, why hell, we have Sam Ficken. Who could ask for more? Advantage, Penn State. Just kidding.
As for coaching, well, hell, Bowden is a blue-blood and he brings in fabled Bowdenite Chuck Amato (who is older than even I am) as DC. Franklin doesn’t have the distinguished history — yet. So, it will be interesting to see the coaching duel in this game.
Saturday’s weather for the Big Beave will be sunny, warm, and humid, with a chance of a thunderstorm. We’re looking at a high of 86°F, which should keep the sideline misters and fans busy. The big guys will feel the heat, getting a little dehydrated and fatigued in the second half.
Official Turkey Poop Prediction
So, it’s that time. You know that the Turkey in his pre-season predictions originally called this one a Big L, while everyone else on our Nittany Turkey Esteemed Panel of Experts predicted a win. That’s life as we know it in the prediction game. Someone’s always got to rain on the parade. The gamblers see this one as a walkover. Penn State opened as an 18 point favorite, which has shrunk to 14 now. The over/under is 51. Those numbers suggest a final score of something like 33-18 in favor of Penn State. In spite of Akron having a 10-day rest and PSU being somewhat travel weary, I’m going to renege on my original prediction and go with a hackattackesque PSU 34, Akron 23 final, and take the over. Should be fun watching the aerial battle.
Oh, yeah, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Greater Orlando Heart Walk for the benefit of the American Heart Association takes place on the morning of this game. If you haven’t yet clicked on this page where you see the thermometer to make your donation in support of my Heart Walk efforts, it’s a good time to reach down in your heart and your wallet to do so. While it won’t inspire me to be a Sanguinarian, it will help out heart and stroke research a lot, which can potentially benefit us all. Thanks for considering a generous donation!