October 7, 2010

Strength vs. strength

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Saturday's game between Kent State and Akron at Dix Stadium in Kent
features two teams desperately seeking a victory. The Zips enter the game 0-6
and the Golden Flashes are riding a three-game losing streak.

To the winner goes the Wagon Wheel, the annual award presented to the winner
of the annual rivalry game, and at least some hope of reentering the competition
for the Mid-American Conference East Division title. The loser of the game
can already begin to think about next year.

The game likely will come down to which team's strength can overpower
its opponent.

In Akron's case, the Zips rely on a running game ranked seventh in the
Mid-American Conference with 127 yards per game. Kent State's strength
is its rush defense, ranked first in the country having allowed just 59 yards
per game and 1.8 yards per carry.

"They have a good front seven and a good secondary," said Akron
head coach Rob Ianello. "It's going to be very tough to run the ball
against them and we need to come up with runs that are going to be effective."

That running game has helped Akron to convert 8-of-10 red zone opportunities
into scores (six touchdowns, four field goals).

As a unit, the Akron offense averages 16.8 points per game.


Akron's passing game hasn't quite thrived as the Zips hoped it
would under sophomore quarterback Patrick Nicely.

quarterback Patrick Nicely has completed just 46.1-percent of his

As a true freshman, Nicely started the final seven games of the 2009 season.
He completed 120-of-222 passes for 1,349 yards and six touchdowns for a 108.6
efficiency rating.

Things have been much different in 2010 for Nicely and the Zips offense, primarily
due to the change from a spread to a more pro-style offense under first year
head coach Rob Ianello.

"We want to run the football effectively and when we get to our passing
game where we want to be able to play-action 50-percent of the time and drop-back
pass 50-percent of the time," Ianello said. "That's what I would
like our identity to be. We are a work in progress."

Through five games, Nicely has completed just 46.1-percent of his passes (59-for-128)
for 636yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown two interceptions.

Backup quarterback
Matt Rodgers has completed just 2-of-6 attempts for 48 yards with
one touchdown and one interception.

Nicely's best game in 2009 came in a 28-20 win over Kent State. He completed
19-of-34 passes for 261 yards and threw two touchdown passes.

Senior wide receiver Jeremy LaFrance is Akron's top receiver.
He is the only Zips wide out with double-digit receptions. He leads the team
with 22 catches for 289 yards and three touchdowns, one of just two Akron receivers
to catch a touchdown pass.

Junior Gary Pride is second on the team with nine catches for 113
yards and converted safety Jalil Carter has eight catches for 74 yards.
Running back Alex Allen is fourth on the team with five catches for
47 yards.

"We graduated a lot of wide receivers last season and Jeremy LaFrance
was the only returning starter," Ianello said. "I've been pleased
with Jalil Carter and what he has done so far, Gary Pride played very well
at Indiana (on Sept. 25) and we have a few other young receivers. Like our
team, they are continuing to improve and we have a lot of season left in us
and I am very optimistic about that."


Akron's running game has been responsible for six of the Zips 10 offensive
touchdowns scored this season.

Allen is a big, powerful running back. He leads the Zips with five
touchdown runs.

Alex Allen has five of those touchdown runs.

The 6-foot, 210-pound bruiser has carried 64 times for 337 yards. He averages
5.3 yards per carry and 67.4 yards per game, good for sixth place in the conference.

"I am very pleased with Alex Allen. He had over 100 yards rushing last
Saturday," Ianello said. "I am pleased with the leadership he's
provided to this football team, and the offensive line has been slugging it
out and we are continuing to progress with the running game and in general
as a football team."

Senior Nate Burney is second on the team with 56 carries for 272
yards. He averages 4.9 yards per carry and 54.4 yards per game.

Behind Allen and Burney, there isn't much depth now that freshman Giorgio Bowers has left the team. Bowers was third on the Zips with 27 rushing

As a team, the Zips average just 3.9 yards per carry and 127.0 yards per game.


The Zips' projected starters on the offensive line consist of two
seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. It's a big unit, one that averages
nearly 6-foot-5 and 296 pounds.

Mike Ward has started 41 games in his career at Akron.

At left tackle, it's senior Corey Woods (6-5, 291), the left
guard is sophomore Mitch Straight (6-5, 295), the center is senior
Mike Ward (6-3, 292), the right guard is junior Zac Kasparek (6-5, 295) and the right tackle is junior Jake Anderson (6-6, 307).

All five Zips linemen have started every game this season for Akron. Ward
and Woods have started all 41 games in their careers. Straight has started
five of the 17 games in which he has appeared in his Zips career, while Kasparek
has started in 5-of-8 and Anderson has 17 starts in 29 appearances.

Akron's running backs have benefited from the push the Zips get up front,
as the two primary ball carriers average 4.9 and 5.3 yards per carry. But,
the Zips' offensive line has struggled to protect its quarterback.

Akron opponents have recorded 15 sacks in five games.

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