“The Zips football team will kick-off the 2008 season Saturday when it travels to Camp Randall Stadium to face the nationally-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. The contest is the first of twelve in a season in which UA hopes to make memorable for more than the closing of the Rubber Bowl, which will serve as the team’s home for the 66th and final time this year.””
The Zips football team will kick-off the 2008 season Saturday when it travels to Camp Randall Stadium to face the nationally-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. The contest is the first of twelve in a season in which UA hopes to make memorable for more than the closing of the Rubber Bowl, which will serve as the team’s home for the 66th and final time this year.
Despite being picked to finish at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference East Division according to the MAC News Media Association’s preseason football poll, the Zips are confident they can have a memorable season.
Those polls are based on last year, said senior tight end Merce Poindexter before the start of fall training camp. Last year’s picks were not close. I think we will have a better season than most expect.
UA returns 43 letterwinners – including 20 on offense and defense – from last year’s team, which finished a disappointing 4-8 (3-5, MAC) in 2007. A talented group of redshirt and true freshmen join the team’s six transfers to complete the team’s roster.
Poindexter will serve as the team’s offensive captain while fellow senior Doug Williams will serve as the team’s defensive leader.
Two of last year’s most explosive playmakers have made position changes to better fit the needs of this year’s team. Senior Bryan Williams, the team’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver in 2007, switched to strong safety. Andre Jones, the team’s starting free safety last year, moved to wide receiver.
The Zips’ running game is unlikely to see a drop in production with the loss of Williams. With the return of experienced tailbacks Alex Allen and Dennis Kennedy and the addition of University of Miami (Florida) transfer Andrew Johnson and recent signee DeVoe Torrence, the position looks to be one of the most formidable on the team.
In addition to Jones, the relatively unproven receiving corps includes fellow seniors Brandon Williams and Alphonso Owen, juniors Jeremy Bruce, Deryn Bowser, Dashan Miller and redshirt freshman Curtis Brown.
Fifth-year head coach J.D. Brookhart praised the play of both offensive units throughout the start of fall practice.
I really like the way our running backs continue to play, Brookhart told reporters after the team’s first practice in full gear Aug. 9. I mentioned our depth at receiver yesterday and today was no different. Dashan Miller has looked good, Andre Jones had a 60-yard touchdown and Alphonso Owen has had a really good camp so far.
Redshirt junior Chris Jacquemain returns as the team’s starting quarterback, after completing 154-of-275 passes for 1,623 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2007. Redshirt freshman Matt Rodgers will challenge Jacquemain for playing time.
On the offensive line, the Zips return four of its five starters. The line is anchored by senior Chris Kemme, a preseason All-MAC selection.
Sophomore Almondo Sewell, who received second-team All-MAC recognition as a true freshman, returns to the defensive front along with senior Eric Lively. Redshirt junior and University of Iowa transfer Ryan Bain has received continual praise from the coaching staff since his arrival at UA last August.
The Zips’ three starting linebackers have a wealth of game experience. Along with boasting the team’s defensive captain in Williams, the corps includes four-year starter Kevin Grant and junior Wayne Cobham.
The Zips’ secondary has the biggest voids to fill with the loss of its two starting cornerbacks and Jones now on offense. Seniors Brandon Anderson and Miguel Graham will look to replace Reggie Corner and Davanzo Tate, who are both now playing in the NFL.
Jalil Carter is the scheduled starter at free safety, opposite the recently converted Williams.
UA’s special teams’ unit was the strongest on last year’s team. That could be the case again in 2008 with redshirt sophomore Igor Ivelijic returning as the team’s placekicker and junior John Stec returning as the Zips’ punter.
Williams and Jones will continue their special teams’ duties. The duo became one of the most dangerous kick returners in college football last season. Williams ranked second in the nation in kick returns, averaging 31.9 yards on 21 attempts, while Jones ranked 11th in the NCAA averaging 14.5 yards per punt return. He is the fifth-best returning punt returner in the nation.
Brookhart said early in camp that the team has worked hard, and that he plans to utilize the team’s overall depth in his play-calling.
Whether it is a man-versus-man drill or a sprint during conditioning, I expect our players to compete and win every time they are on the field, he said. I continue to like the direction we are going and the depth we are developing on both sides of the ball. I expect we will be able to go six-to-eight deep at wide receiver and hope to play at least 20 on defense.
The Zips will continue non-conference play next week as they travel to the Carrier Dome to face the Big East’s Syracuse Orangemen.