BOCA RATON, FL —Nowadays when the city of Akron is mentioned our brains automatically correlate with NBA superstar LeBron James.
While LBJ put Akron on the map in the eyes of sports fans, he failed to mention that the city has a pretty good college football team that has earned the right to play in this years’ Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl against Florida Atlantic University. My goodness, where do they come up with these crazy names?
The Akron Zips ended the 2017 campaign with a 7-6 record and now head into hostile territory in South Florida as they take on the hometown favorites. The Owls had a great season finishing 10-3 and went undefeated in Conference USA under the direction of first-year Head Coach Lane Kiffin. It almost makes you wonder why this match-up was created given that the Owls are 23-point favorites. Perhaps it’s because the Zips also won their division going 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference. At the very least, Akron will attempt to zip the mouths shut behind the Las Vegas sports book and steal a victory as a true road team. Anything can happen as we’ve seen thousands of times before.
Boca Raton is FAU’s backyard and despite the fact that there’s a large number of tickets granted to Akron fans, you can bet that this will sound like a regular season home game on steroids for Florida Atlantic. I understand that the NCAA wants to have as many games as possible in warm weather states to attract fans. But it’s always been my belief that a bowl game should be on neutral turf. I guess the committee doesn’t care much about an even playing field as another Florida team, the Miami Hurricanes will play in their home at Hard Rock Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Orange Bowl.
So why are the FAU Owls so heavily favored to win the Boca Bowl? First of all, they’re a better overall team with home-field advantage. Secondly, they have some star athletes who may become NFL players in the near future. The Owls game-plan revolves around sophomore running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for nearly 1,800 yards this season with 29 trips to the end zone. He’s also notched 11-straight games with over 100 yards on the ground. This is a major problem for the Zips as they rank 96th in the country against the run. In addition, the Owls come into this contest red-hot as they won their last nine games while Akron split its final four contests and lost the MAC Championship against Toledo.
Other players that Akron will have to keep an eye on zipping across the field are receivers Willie Wright and Kalib Woods. Wright is a dependable wideout who can catch a lot of passes in critical third down situations. Woods can take the top off the defense as he averages 27 yards per reception. He may not get as many looks by quarterback Jason Driskel, but when he targets Woods there’s always potential for a huge play.
FAU isn’t concerned with the Zips run game because frankly, there isn’t one. Manny Morgan is the team’s leading rusher and he only managed 99 carries for just 393 yards this year. Morgan couldn’t even crack 60 yards in any single game this season, which tells us a lot about Akron’s offensive line. The evidence of a lackluster offensive line persists with quarterback Thomas Woodson who completed just 57 percent of his passes with a touchdown to interception ratio of 14:9. Woodson has no scrambling ability which makes him an easy mark for pass rushers who got to the Zips quarterback 16 times this season while attempting a mere 278 passes. Not a great ratio. However, Woodson compensates his depleted athletic skills by getting rid of the ball quickly with a short passing attack.
Neither team throws the ball particularly well but only one can run the ball with consistency. The difference maker could be Singletary and his ability to take over the game. Akron will focus on this aspect all throughout practice. As Allen Iverson once said, “we talking about practice man.”
The Zips can practice and scheme all they want but when the Owls offensive line throws the Zips defense around in live action, it will be Singletary who finds the holes and speeds toward pay-dirt.
We can’t finish this preview without mentioning the head coaches and their family tree. As we know Terry Bowden is the son of legendary Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden who ranks fourth all-time in wins by a head coach at the collegiate level. Bobby is one of the best to ever do it and clearly some of it has rubbed off on his son. Terry has actually done a great job at Akron where two years ago he led the Zips to a school record eight wins. Akron has been bowling for two of the past three seasons and will look to continue that run in 2018.
At age 42, Lane Kiffin has had more coaching jobs than his legendary father, Monte, who is now 77 years young and helping out his son at FAU as the team’s defensive assistant. Lane has certainly learned from his past positions around the NCAA and NFL. A much more mature Lane Kiffin has settled down a bit and regained focus on the task at hand. He turned this program around the second he arrived at Florida Atlantic and has his Owls hooting and hollering with confidence. For their sake, let’s hope confidence doesn’t turn to cockiness and they take Akron lightly. That will be Kiffin’s job as head coach to keep his team on track and prepared as if they were playing the New England Patriots.
Nobody’s giving Akron a chance in this game. Sometimes the mentality of “us against the world” works and motivates a team to prove all the naysayers wrong. In the great sport of football, anything can happen on any given day. Players get injured, some don’t perform to the best of their abilities and the ball can bounce in funny ways. Not to mention, both teams have had significant time off which will help those healing from injuries, but at the same time, the long layover can affect a team’s momentum.
Tune in Tuesday, Dec. 19. and see if Akron can slow down the sophomore stud at running back. If FAU wins this contest it will likely be because of Devin Singletary and the Owls offensive line. If Akron pulls off the upset, we’ll probably attribute that to turnovers. Despite the Zips ability to stop the run, they can create turnovers as they snatched 19 interceptions this season. If Akron can score points off of turnovers then they can keep this game close and possibly even win it.