The distance between the campuses of the University of Akron and Kent State University is just 12 miles. The shortest in the Mid-American Conference, and one of the shortest in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision.
Akron and Kent State renew their annual battle for the Wagon Wheel Saturday
Saturday, at high noon, inside Dix Stadium, the Zips (2-3,0-1 MAC) and Golden Flashes (1-4,0-1 MAC) will meet for the 51st time on the football field and for the 38th time the winner will earn possession of The Wagon Wheel trophy.
Akron holds a 28-20-2 edge and has won three of the last four meetings including last years battle, the final meeting ever at the Rubber Bowl, Kent State had a 17-10 lead going into the fourth quarter of last year's contest but Akron scored 17 unanswered points in the final fifteen minutes to take victory.
Akron comes into this game still smarting from its 17-15 home loss last Saturday to Cincinnati when the Zips had an extra point blocked, failed on a two-point conversion, and missed a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. In a game that was decided by those scant two points, those missed opportunities loomed large.
We played a very good game (against Cincinnati), but it wasnt good enough. We have a resilient group, we will bounce back and this is a good game to bounce back with, Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said.
Offensively, the Zips had 358 yards against the Bearcats, the sixth consecutive game dating back to last season that they have surpassed that number.
Still over the last two games, Brookhart is lamenting that his team has left points on the field. He remarked That is an area that we have to fix. Were producing the yards and not producing the points that we need to.
Junior quarterback Chris Jacquemain has started to take charge of the offense. After suffering four interceptions and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the 41-14 home loss to Ball State on September 13th, the Mentor, Ohio native has had two solid games; a 22-3 win at Army, and last Saturday against Cincinnati, completing 40-of-65 passes for 458 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
On the season, Jacquemain has completed 60.2% of his passes (103-for-171) for 1234 yards (fifth in the MAC) and eight touchdowns. Amongst the other signal callers, he ranks sixth in MAC passing averaging 242.8 yards per game, seventh in passing efficiency at 128.3, and sixth in total offense at 238.6 yards per game.
The Zips though will come into this game with the Golden Flashes banged up at running back.
Junior Alex Allen was lost for the season with a hip injury suffered in the Ball State game. Fifth-year senior Andrew Johnson felt numbness in his extremities, equivalent to a double-stinger, during a play in the third quarter of the Cincinnati game and has been ruled out of the Kent State tilt.
Akrons defense is one of the best in the entire nation in creating turnovers. The unit forced a pair of fumbles against Cincinnati. and has created fourteen turnovers in their five games so far this season (ten fumbles and four interceptions). Their +5 giveaway/takeaway ratio leads the MAC and their +1.0 average is 18th nationally.
In addition, the defense is third in the Red Zone in the MAC at 78.9% allowing 15 scores in 19 opportunities.
When asked about the Zips, Kent State Head coach Doug Martin said They do a nice job with their spread attack. Jacquemain is playing much better than when we saw him last yearDefensively, they use a scheme you dont see that much (a 3-3-5 defense) and they bring pressure in a lot of different ways
The Zips will be looking for a reversal of fortune this Saturday against MAC opposition. Dating back to 2007, they have lost three straight conference games and six of their last seven.
Meanwhile, the Golden Flashes lost their MAC opener last Saturday to the West Division leading Ball State 41-20 in Muncie. They look to end a seven game MAC losing streak with a win Saturday against the Zips.
|Akron has claimed three of the last four in the series against Kent State.
Kent State has lost 11 of their last 12 games dating back to last year with their lone win coming against FCS opponent Delaware State 24-3.
It will be nice to play at home for the first time in a while. Weve had some long trips to Iowa State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Ball State so it will be nice to play in front of a home crowd. This is what College Football is all about, Martin added.
Like Akron, the Golden Flashes are a banged up football team. The biggest injury offensively is to star running back Eugene Jarvis. The fourth-year junior from Pittsburgh, who came into the season as the leading returning rusher in the FBS, has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain suffered in the Flashes win over DSU.
With Jarvis sidelined, more pressure has been put on Edelman to move the offense. The senior from Redwood City, California, leads the Flashes in rushing with 374 yards and five touchdowns. Through the air, he has completed 53 percent of his passes (53-for-100) for 665 yards and five more scores. Edelman is ninth in MAC total offense at 207.8 yards per game.
One of the nice surprises for the Kent State offense has been the play of wide receiver Shawn Bayes. The senior from Memphis, Tennessee leads the Flashes with 15 receptions for 297 yards and three touchdowns. Bayes has a a touchdown in three of his last four games including last Saturday when he had just three catches against the Cardinals but still racked 96 yards receiving and that score. Bayes is currently sixth in all-purpose yards at 126.2 yards per game, and tenth in receiving yards at 59.4 per game.
In addition, Bayes has returned 14 kickoffs for 292 yards a 20,1 yard average per return.
Injuries have also put a dent into the defense with starters Cobrani Mixon out with a broken foot, and Cedrick Maxwell suffering a fractured shin with both going down in the Ball State game.
Mixon is out for the season while Maxwell, according to Martin, could be ready when they head to Miami on October 25th.
The leader of the defense, fifth year senior Derek Burrell, has been playing with bumps and bruises but still is one of the best linebackers in the MAC. The native of Richmond, Virginia had seven tackles against Ball State and is second in total tackles in the MAC with 51 (20 of them solos)
Martin said We got to play better defensively, and we have to start creating turnovers and we have to stop the run.
When asked about the Zips game, Martin replied You dont have to work very hard in motivating guys for this game.
As he looks at the Flashes, Brookhart remarked They are extremely sound defensively. I think offensively, (Julian) Edelman flat out scares you. The kid is Houdini. He is part of their run game. Not only do you have to defend the pass play, you have to defend the scrambling.
The Trophy: The winner of the game gets possession of The Wagon Wheel which dates back to 1946.
The legend of the wheel dates back to 1870 when John R. Buchtel who founded Buchtel College (later becoming the University Of Akron) began a search for a proposed college in an area around Kent and his wagon was stuck in the mud in an area on the present Kent State campus. It remained imbedded in the ground until 1902.
It was Raymond Manchester, then Dean of Men at Kent State in the 1940s, who made the suggestion to make the wheel the trophy to the winner of the football game between the two schools.
NOTES: The game will televised on ESPN Regional (locally on WEWS-TV 5 ABC-Cleveland and on the ESPN GamePlan PPV package)Both coaches came to their respective schools in 2004 with Brookhart having a 3-1 record against MartinBryan Williams-AKR is sixth in FBS kick returns at 32.6 yardsKevin Grant-AKR is tied for second in the MAC in tackles for loss at 1.1 per game...Miguel Graham-AKR leads in fumble recoveries with threeMatt Reinhart-KSU is fourth in punting at 41.1 yds per kickBrian Lainhart-KSU is tied for second in tackles at 10.2 per game