Breaking down the Zips

By Brian Earle

No. 23 football (5-0, 1-0 MAC) is set for its Homecoming matchup with Akron (1-5, 0-2 MAC) at 4 p.m. Saturday after playing four of its first five games on the road. The Huskies are coming off their first MAC win of the season in which they defeated Kent State 38-24. On the other hand, the Zips have struggled, losing their last four games in a row. With a victory over the Zips, the Huskies will extend their home game winning streak to 23 and their MAC winning streak to 19.

Quarterback: The Zips will be led on the field by sophomore Kyle Pohl. Pohl has been mediocre at best this season, throwing eight touchdowns compared to his seven interceptions. On the season, Pohl has thrown for 1,173 yards. He has had a rough go in his first two MAC games this season, losing 31-14 to Bowling Green and 43-3 to Ohio. In the two MAC games, Pohl has thrown just one touchdown as well as an interception. Against Ohio, Pohl was running for his life as he was brought down for eight sacks and lost a fumble.

Running back: Junior Jawon Chisholm will carry the load for Akron on the ground. Chisholm comes into Saturday with 287 yards rushing and one touchdown on the season. He leads the Zips with 72 carries, but he has not carried the ball more than 15 times in a game. Sophomore Conor Hundley spells Chisholm often, running the ball 44 times for 191 yards. The Zips’ run game has not been very effective this season as it’s the second-worst rushing team in the MAC. As a team, they have only reached the end zone three times and two of the touchdowns came on runs by the quarterback.

Wide Receiver: Sophomore Zach D’Orazio will have to be on the Huskies’ radar all game, especially in the red zone. D’Orazio leads the team in all receiving categories. On the season, he has recorded 19 receptions for 266 yards. He is also responsible for half of Pohl’s touchdown passes this season, catching four touchdowns. D’Orazio is not one of the biggest receivers on the field at 6-foot-2, but he uses his speed for big plays. In Akron’s game against Louisiana, Pohl and D’Orazio hooked up for a 77-yard touchdown, the Zips’ longest play from scrimmage this season.

Offensive line: Senior left tackle Jarrod Pughsley is the most experienced player on the offensive line. After a rough week where the Zips gave up a season-high eight sacks, he — along with the entire offensive line — will have to do a better job of protecting Pohl. It won’t get any easier for the offensive line as the Huskies’ pass rush is one of the best in the nation. The Huskies are ninth in the nation with 17 sacks for a loss of 101 yards. Pughsley will have to give Pohl time and protect his blind side as Pohl lost a fumble last week against Ohio.

Defensive line: Senior C.J. James does it all for Akron on the defensive line. James has been the most effective run-stopper for the Zips as he leads the team with six tackles for a loss of 18 yards. He is a more than effective pass rusher, sacking the quarterback three-and-a-half times this season for a loss of 14 yards. His best game of the season came against Bowling Green, where he recorded three sacks and three tackles for a loss. He leads all defensive linemen in tackles with 24. James is also tied for the team lead in forced fumbles with two.

Linebacker: The Huskies will need to know where junior Justin March is on the field at all times. March flies all over the field making tackles and interceptions. This season he leads all linebackers with 32 tackles as well as two tackles for a loss. Where March really has excelled this season is in pass coverage. March leads the Zips and is tied for second in the MAC with three interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in the Zips’ 28-24 loss at Michigan, one of them for a 27-yard touchdown.

Defensive Back: One of the top backs in the MAC is senior Malachi Freeman. He is another do-it-all threat for the Zips. He leads the team with 36 tackles but has been even more impressive in pass coverage. He is tied for second in the MAC with eight pass breakups on the season. He is a quick back with good recovery speed which allows him to break up so many passes. Freeman has also recorded an interception on the season.

Special Teams: Field position will be a big part of this game and sophomore punter Zach Paul will play a big role in that. On the year, Paul has punted 33 times for 1,443 yards and third best in the MAC. Nine of his punts have been downed inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line. Paul has a leg on him as his season-long punt was 65 yards. With the Huskies playmakers in the return game, I would also expect Paul to kick away from the Huskies and not allow a big return, causing the Huskies to start deep in their own territory.