Marcus Thigpen/Tracy Porter vs. Andre Jones/Bryan Williams? – In 120 minutes of football, the Akron offense has managed one touchdown. That score came in the second quarter of the Zips' 22-14 win over Army in the season-opener, a game where Akron needed a trio of field goals and a 74-yard interception return for a score to escape with a homefield win against the service academy. Akron then managed only two points and three first downs in a 20-2 loss to Ohio State, providing further evidence that the Zips' offense is anything but overpowering at this stage in the season.
That bodes well for the Hoosiers…unless they give up some big returns in the kicking game that gives the Zips' offense a short field to work with. On punt returns J.D. Brookhart's squad will lean on Andre Jones, who is averaging 26.5 yards on four punt returns this season. On kickoffs, Bryan Williams is averaging better than 29 yards/return and took one back 70 yards against Army.
Indiana, meanwhile, is waiting for Thigpen and/or Porter to make a big impact on a game on special teams this season. The Big Ten leaders in '06 on kickoff and punt returns, respectively, both have been quiet thus far. Porter is averaging 12.4 yards on five punt returns, while Thigpen has gotten his hands on only one kickoff this year, running it back 38 yards last week.
If you're questioning the sort of impact a big return can have on a game, look no further than last week's game in Kalamazoo. With Indiana seemingly in complete control 34-7 in the third quarter, Brandon West returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score to cut the margin to 20. That played turned the tide, and Indiana found itself in a fourth-quarter dogfight before securing the 37-27 win.
"The kickoff return was a really big play," IU Coach Bill Lynch said later.
Indiana is looking for its own sort of big play on special teams, and if it gets one or two, it could set the stage for a convincing win against the MAC foe. But if Akron can either get some points off special teams or set itself up with some short fields, this game could be too close for the Hoosiers' comfort.
Akron TBs Dennis Kennedy & Bryan Williams vs. IU Rush Defense – Statistically, Akron is averaging only 68.0 yards/game and 2.5 yards/carry rushing in its first two games. Despite those anemic numbers, expect Akron Coach J.D. Brookhart to try to move the ball on the ground against Indiana.
Why? Because the Zips headed into the season believing their ability to run was going to be the strength of the offense, and Brookhart has been out-spoken about the fact that his team needs to do it better and more often than they have in the season's first two weeks.
"There were some things we could have done differently offensively," Brookhart said about his team's 20-2 loss at Ohio State. "Certainly we could have forced some more runs. I think in the end we only had 14 rushes."
With that in mind, expect Brookhart to try to utilize his tailback tandem a great deal Saturday. Kennedy has only 80 yards in the first two games, but did earn second-team All-MAC honors in 2006 after rushing for 914 yards and nine touchdowns. Williams, meanwhile, has apparently supplanted Alex Allen as the team's No. 2 tailback and will be used in a way very similar to what IU does with Demetrius McCray.
On paper the Zips appear to have their work cut out for them moving the ball on the ground. Indiana ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense, giving up only 38.0 yards/game on the ground. But the jury is still out on how much improved this IU rushing defense is. In 2006, the Hoosiers surrendered only 56.5 yards/game and 2.1 yards/carry in getting off to a 2-0 start, but that wound up being fool's gold – they then gave up 244 yards rushing in a 35-28 loss to Southern Illinois and 257 yards rushing in a 14-7 loss to UConn during the next two weeks.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players To Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
AKRON: Two Days and Counting
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