Game Time: 7:00 pm ESPN 3
On Thursday night, the Akron Zips will travel to Orlando to face the Central Florida Knights. The Zips will look to put the past in the rear view mirror. Last year, UCF walked into InfoCision Stadium and dominated the Zips, 56-14. Led by four Zips turnovers, the Knights jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead and never looked back. This year, however, the outcome could have a different ending.
Akron will be led by sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl. Pohl showed poise and good decision making in the Zips season-ending loss on the road to the Toledo Rockets. In limited action last season, Pohl completed 65.5 percent of his passes and threw for five touchdowns with only two interceptions. Pohl has a strong arm and will need to find a veteran group of wide receivers led by junior LT Smith. Smith caught 48 passes for 509 yards and three touchdowns last season. As a team, the Zips return four receivers that caught over 28 passes last year and this group is the strength of the offense. The running game will be very important on Thursday night. Junior running back Jawon Chisholm returns for the Zips. Last season, Chisholm averaged 5.3 yards per carry and does not fear contact. He is a fierce competitor and is able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Last season, Chisholm caught 38 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Look for the Zips to take advantage of the Knights rushing defense, which gave up 155.86 yards rushing in 2012.
The Achilles heel of the Zips defense last year was the lack of a pass rush. The Zips only had 16 sacks last year. By not being able to rush the passer in 2012, the Zips secondary was forced to cover longer, which led to big plays. However, entering 2013, the defensive line has depth, which will allow defensive coordinator Chuck Amato to rotate players in and out. A major contributor to the defensive line looks to be former Colorado State transfer CJ James. James has great size at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and the speed to create problems for the Knights’ offensive line. Defensive tackles Nico Caponi and Cody Grice are very fast and can create double teams that will free up linebackers Justin March and CJ Mizell. The secondary has three starters returning in Malachi Freeman, Johnny Robinson and Anthony Holmes.
Junior quarterback Blake Bortles returns for the 2013 season. Bortles completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 3,059 passing yards. He connected on 25 TD passes and only seven interceptions. Of the seven interceptions, five came in the Knights first two games. The Knights return their top four leading receivers and are led by JJ Worton. Worton caught 44 passes last year and led the receiving group with five touchdowns. The Knights will look to take advantage of the Zips secondary that surrendered 30 TD passes in 2012. Storm Johnson will carry the rock for the Knights. Johnson rushed for 565 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. The Knights offensive line is very big with four starters weighing over 300 pounds.
The Knights gave up a total of 217.7 passing yards per game last season. However, at home, that number grew to 252.8 yards per game. The Knights lose six starters from last season and have some young players on the defensive line. Senior defensive tackle EJ Dunston is a load at 6-foot-2, 309 pounds and will be a force in the middle. Returning linebacker Terrance Plummer is a solid linebacker and finished the 2012 season with 108 tackles. Clayton Geathers leads the secondary for the Knights. Last season, Geathers was second on the team in tackles with 117.
Throw last year’s game out the window. That was Akron’s first game under Akron head coach Terry Bowden, with the team learning both a new offensive and defensive scheme. Look for an aggressive effort by the Zips in this game. The Knights are starting two redshirt freshmen in the secondary. Look for the Zips to exploit them with their up tempo high octane passing attack. Akron starts fast and pulls off the major upset to start the 2013 season.