Perhaps one way to describe Akron’s 2017 college football season is head-scratching.
The Zips go into their game at Miami’s Yager Stadium on Tuesday ranked 10th in the 12-team Mid-American Conference in scoring, 11th in total and rushing offense, average time of possession and total defense and last in passing defense, field-goal percentage and punt-return average.
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Yet, somehow, Akron (5-4, 4-1) is tied with Ohio for first place in the MAC East Division. The Zips’ last two conference wins each were by one point, 14-13 at Western Michigan and 21-20 at home against Buffalo in their last game on Oct. 28.
“Akron’s done as good job of winning close games,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “They’ve been able to make plays when needed. They have a nice, efficient approach to what they do.”
Akron, which was picked to finish fourth in the East in a preseason MAC media poll and already has surpassed their three conference wins of last season, opened the season with a 52-0 loss at Penn State, but bounced back to roll over Arkansas Pine Bluff, 52-3, before losing, 41-14, at home to Iowa State and 22-17 at Troy. The Zips’ only MAC loss has been at Toledo, 48-21.
“They throw the ball around the field in a variety of ways,” said the RedHawks’ fourth-year coach, whose team lost, 35-13, at Akron last season. “They do a good job of pushing the ball down the field. Three of the (five) touchdowns we gave up last season came from them throwing the ball over our heads. They throw the ball downfield more than any team we’ve played this year.”
That could put pressure on a Miami defensive backfield led by fifth-year senior cornerback Heath Harding and senior safety Tony Reid.
“They have a talented football team with a really good quarterback,” said the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Harding, a Dayton Christian graduate who’s possibly looking at the last three games of his college career.
Senior Thomas Woodson ranks fourth in the MAC with 1,742 passing yards and is in a three-way tie for third with 14 touchdown passes.
Junior linebacker Ulysses Gilbert III leads the Zips and is second in the MAC with 85 tackles.
“They do a good job of limiting shots down the field,” Martin said. “They’re very difficult on third down. We’ve got to stay out of third-and-long against them. They do a really good job on third down of turning in negative plays.”
The RedHawks need to win their last three games to match last season’s 6-6 regular-season record and qualify for a bowl berth.
Quarterback Gus Ragland, who started the last seven games of last season and the first six of this season before missing the last three games with an injury, wasn’t listed on Miami’s depth chart for Tuesday’s game, but Martin suggested the fourth-year junior might be ready to return to the lineup. Ragland was available for last Tuesday’s 45-28 loss at Ohio, which dropped the RedHawks’ records to 3-6 and 2-3 in the East.
“He wasn’t 100 percent,” Martin said. “To play that position, you need to be 100 percent. We’re very hopeful that he will play and start. He’s got to get where he feels like he can do all he needs to do.”
Martin wasn’t sure about the status of junior linebacker De’Andre Montgomery, who left the Ohio game with an injury.
“With (Montgomery), we’ll see,” Martin said about the team’s second-leading tackler with 61.