When: Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. Time TBA.
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
Akron at a glance:
Head coach: Terry Bowden (first season at Akron; 139-63-2 all-time)
Conference: MAC (Mid-American Conference)
All-time record: 486-485-37
Returning starters: 7 (offense), 6 (defense)
2011 overview: Wins have been hard to come by in recent years for Akron. The 2011 campaign was no exception. The Zips finished the season 1-11 with their only victory coming over VMI, an FCS team. Their 11 losses to FBS schools came by an average of just under 30 points. They showed some progress in October with three competitive games against conference foes but ultimately struggled down the stretch. The Zips were outscored 189 to 35 in November, sealing the fate of former head coach Rob Ianello and leading to the hiring of Terry Bowden.
Three matchups to watch:
1. Akron cornerbacks vs. Tennessee wide receivers
Bowden brings a familiar name in as defensive coordinator in former NC State head coach Chuck Amato. Amato likes his cornerbacks to play tight and press opposing wide receivers. The Zips return two players with starting experience at corner in junior Anthony Holmes and senior Emmanuel Lartey.
Bowden conceded that they may not be good enough play press coverage all season. Facing wide receivers such as Tennessee’s Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter may be part of the reason. Both have long arms and can easily get off the line when pressed. It will be interesting to see if Amato sticks with his philosophy or plays off of the talented duo.
2. Running back Jawon Chisholm vs. Tennessee defense
Akron is transitioning from a traditional I-formation running attack to more of a spread offense that will regularly feature three or four wide receivers. That doesn’t change that fact that its top returning offensive weapon is the bruising 6-foot-1, 210-pound sophomore Jawon Chisholm. Regardless what the offense looks like, expect Chisholm — who rushed for 961 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2011 — to still get a lot of work.
Tennessee’s rush defense was inconsistent in 2011. The Vols finished near the middle of the pack nationally (No. 69) in total rush defense, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Giving up big runs was a large part of the problem. For example, the Vols allowed more rushing yards to Buffalo than they did to Alabama. That was in large part thanks to a 68-yard touchdown run by Buffalo’s Chazz Anderson. The key against Chisholm will be preventing him from breaking the huge runs.
3. Tennessee rush attack vs. Akron defense
Stopping the run has been one of the biggest downfalls for the Zips in the midst of their 2-22 stretch the last two seasons. They allowed opponents to rush 219.6 yards per game in 2011. The outlook doesn’t look a lot better for 2012. Linebacker Brian Wagner — perhaps their best defensive player over the last three seasons — opted to take advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule and left for Arizona, but he eventually deciding to quit football.
The Vols’ rushing woes were well documented in 2011. Their best performance came against Buffalo, a MAC opponent. The Vols rushed for 199 yards that day, led by Tauren Poole’s 101 yards on 17 carries. Tennessee fell one yard short of 200, a mark they were unable to attain all season. Rushing for 200 against the Zips in 2012 should be an obtainable goal for the Vols as they try to rebuild their rushing attack.
How will it play out?
History sits squarely on the Vols’ side in this one. The Vols are 6-0 against teams currently in the MAC and the Zips lost to their last two SEC opponents by a combined 103-10.
Terry Bowden, a former head coach at Samford, Auburn and North Alabama, may be able to change the culture at Akron eventually, but asking for anything more than modest improvement in 2012 is unrealistic.
Regardless of what happens in the previous weeks, Tennessee shouldn’t have much problem with this one. The Vols are better at every position and should win this game by several touchdowns.