Written by: D.J. Johnson
Only 12 miles separate the campuses of The University of Akron and Kent State University, but eight weeks into the college football season, the two schools find their programs an infinite number of miles apart.
The Flashes (7-1, 4-0 MAC) enter Saturday’s rivalry game atop the MAC East and the Zips (1-8, 0-5) come in as the basement-dwellers of the entire Conference.
“Sometimes, in these types of games, you throw out the records and see what happens,” said Akron head coach Terry Bowden.
The same mentality has been reflected in the Kent locker room.
“You get into these rivalry games and the record means absolutely nothing,” said Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell.
The parallels in attitude have not mimicked the results on the field.
Akron is coming off a 35-14 loss to Central Michigan, where the Chippewas picked up their first Conference victory of the season. This was the Zips’ sixth straight loss.
The Flashes may still have momentum Saturday afternoon following one of the school’s biggest victories in its history: a 35-23 win over No. 15 Rutgers. It was the first time a Kent team has beaten a nationally-ranked opponent.
“I thought we were two evenly-matched teams going in, and our kids played like crazy,” Hazell said.
While the Zips struggle to find a second victory, the Flashes have not lost a game since Sept. 8., in week two of the season. With Kent’s sights set on its first bowl berth in 40 years and Akron looking for its first two-win season since 2009, it has been easy to forget that the Wagon Wheel is up for grabs.
The rivalry trophy that goes to the winner of the annual game may require a near-flawless effort from the visiting Zips.
“We have to keep from turning the ball over and giving up the big play,” Bowden said. “We can’t afford to make mistakes.”
The Zips had six turnovers in the last three weeks and only one takeaway.
The Flashes created seven turnovers last week alone, intercepting Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova six times. Their plus-19 turnover margin ranks fourth in the nation.
Zips quarterback Dalton Williams will not only have to take care of the ball, but will also be heavily relied on to put points on the board.
The fifth-year senior has been relied on most of the year — his 22 touchdown passes is tied for sixth in the country — but he has led a stagnant offense the last two weeks to a combined 21 points.
Williams has had plenty of opportunities. His 47.3 passing attempts per game ranks top in the nation.
Kent will likely rely heavily on the run with the tandem of Trayion Durham and Dri Archer. Combined, the two have run for 1,546 yards on the season.
According to USATODAY.com, Kent’s seven wins are the most for the school since 1987.
They will look to build on that total on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be played in Dix Stadium in Kent.
The match-up will also be broadcast on ESPN3.