Zips look to continue conference success in Buffalo

By Jake Allen, Sports Editor

The University of Akron football team will travel to Buffalo on Thursday to play the Bulls in a huge MAC game. Coming off a 35-25 win over Ball State last Saturday, the Zips will only get five days of rest before Thursday’s game.

Akron enters the game with a 5-3 record, and it needs just one more win to be bowl eligible for the second straight year. The Zips also have a 3-1 conference record, which is tied with Ohio University for the best in the MAC’s Eastern Division. The Bulls have struggled this season, taking a 1-6 record overall and 0-3 conference record into their battle with the Zips.

The Bulls are coming off four straight losses, the past three against MAC opponents. Losses to Kent State and Ball State preceded their 44-7 smackdown from Northern Illinois last Saturday.

Following the graduation of star quarterback Joe Licata, Buffalo has turned to freshman Tyree Jackson (Norton Shores, Michigan). The 6-foot-7 passer has completed only 54.7 percent of his passes for 1,234 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions this season. Those numbers aren’t impressive, but he has run for 288 yards with three additional scores so far.

Senior running back Jordan Johnson has rushed 99 times for 443 yards with two touchdowns this season. Sophomore Johnathan Hawkins has also carried the ball 49 times for 209 yards as a change-of-pace back.

The Bulls’ receivers aren’t an impressive group, lacking a single player with either 300 receiving yards or three touchdowns. Tight end Mason Schreck (Medina, Ohio) has 30 catches for 298 yards with two touchdowns, all of which lead the team. Wide receivers Marcus McGill and Malcolm Robinson (Canton, Ohio) will also get chances.

The Buffalo defense has not been strong either, ranking 105th in the nation by allowing 33.4 points per game. The Zips defense is tied with Buffalo in points allowed per game, so this could be a high-scoring game.

With the return of quarterback Thomas Woodson, the Zips should have no trouble scoring on a porous Buffalo defense. Woodson, who sat out three games with an injury, returned in the Ball State game and played very well (27-40, 338 yards, two touchdowns, zero turnovers). His return is very important for the team’s success.

Running back Van Edwards, who was just named MAC Offensive Player of the Week, will work with Manny Morgan to carry the running game. Each player has over 300 rushing yards this year and averages at least five yards-per-carry.

The Zips’ receivers have been a major key to their success this season. Both Jerome Lane (649 yards with four touchdowns) and Jojo Natson (639 yards with eight touchdowns) rank in the top-25 in receiving yards in the entire nation. Within the MAC, only Toledo’s Cody Thompson, Bowling Green’s Scott Miller, and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis have more yards than Lane and Natson.

Ulysees Gilbert leads a defense that has struggled for much of the season, but has shown potential of late. Gilbert leads the team with 94 tackles and eight-and-a-half tackles for loss.

This is the first of four straight games on a weeknight for the Zips, as it still has home matchups with Toledo and Bowling Green before traveling to Athens to play Ohio University in a game that will likely determine the MAC-East champion. That champion will play in the MAC Championship in Detroit on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.

The Zips will first need to beat Buffalo on Thursday. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.