by Dallas Jackson - 12/13/2005
Monday December 26, 2005 4:00pm
Memphis: 6-5 (5-3) 2nd C-USA
Akron: 7-5 (6-3) 1st MAC
When Memphis has the ball:
To say Memphis likes to run the ball is a bit of an understatement. The Tigers gained more than twice as many yards on the ground than though the air, accumulating 2,869 rushing to 1,390 passing yards.
Most of those yards came via the legs of DeAngelo Williams. Despite battling injuries most of his senior season, including missing one game entirely, Williams was able to rush for more than 1,700 yards, averaging 172.6 ypg.
He will lead the Tigers attack on the Zips in the Motor City Bowl. Maurice Avery has taken over as the Tigers full-time quarterback as Memphis had used three players under center this season. Avery, listed in the media guide as a wide receiver, had more attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns than the two listed quarterbacks the Tigers have used. He is a versatile player that is second on the team in rushing and he has the second most receiving yards for the Tigers.
It's no secret that Memphis would like to run the ball. In their last game versus Marshall the Tigers rushed 54 times and passed just eight (for negative 3 yards). It will require gap discipline on defense or a potent offense to take Memphis out of its ball-control game plan.
Akron gave up more points than they scored this season, averaging 23.3 ppg allowed. Unfortunately, they are also not very adept at shutting down the run as the Zips allowed more than 140 ypg. The Zips are led by three standout linebackers. Senior MLB Jay Rohr leads the charge on defense At 5-11, 220 pounds; he is undersized and physical in the same mold of a Zach Thomas, and likes to hit just the same. His 113 tackles led the team he also made 11.5 stops in the backfield.
His teammates Brion Stokes and Kevin Grant are third and fourth on the team in tackles, and have combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. They are very weak along the defensive line, and have been pushed around at time this season. While the secondary has not been strong -- only forcing seven interceptions this season -- it should not be an issue as Memphis would like to continue to pound the ball and make the Zips respect the ground game.
When Akron has the ball:
It will be up to QB Luke Getsy, a transfer from Pitt, and All-MAC performer Domenick Hixon to keep Akron in this game. The combo hooked up for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. But, ultimately it will be Getsy that makes or breaks the Zips in this Bowl game.
The 6-2 junior threw for 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns on the year, and he likes to spread the ball around to his three main targets, seniors Hixon, and Jason Montgomery plus RB Brett Biggs. Biggs, another Akron senior, is a "scat back" who ended the year just shy of 1,200 yards and was second on the team with 61 receptions.
The Zips have only averaged 23 ppg on the year, but have averaged 33 ppg in their last three, making a charge to conference champions and bowl eligibility. Most of the problems on offense are due to the offensive line, which has allowed 31 sacks and put the team in long-yardage situations. They only convert on 33 percent of their third-downs and will need to improve on that when they get on the field with Memphis.
The Tigers give up big yards through the air - more than 260 ypg -- and they do not put pressure on the quarterback with only 19 sacks this season. The weakness on the Akron O-line could provide more opportunity for sacks. However, blitzing will leave receivers open and Getsy has show the ability to find them. It could be said that the Tigers do well containing the run as they allow only 3.7 yards per carry, but with teams throwing as effectively as they do against the Tigers it could become a moot point in this contest.
Senior linebackers Tim Goodwell and Carlton Baker lead the defensive unit each posting more than 80 tackles. These two are the only players on the team with more than five tackles for a loss, and they have seven of the team's 19 sacks. The D-Line is soft and not effective as there are very few standout players, but they played well enough to get Memphis to their third straight winning season.
Memphis has a very good kicker and if the game is close this could be the key. Senior kicker Stephen Gostkowski made 86.4 percent of his field goals this year (19-of-22), including 9-of-9 beyond 40-yards, with two longer than 50. Gostkowski has not had a miss on extra points hitting all 32.
Gostkowski uses his big leg in the kickoff game as well. He has booted 33 kickoffs for touchbacks, and has pinned the opposition to an average start of the 21-yard line. No team has taken a kick back for a touchdown.
Their punter, Michael Gibson, can boom the ball. His average of 44.4 yards was one of the best in the conference. Only five fair catches and just 10-of-55 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line is a credit to the punt coverage team as well.
For as good as Memphis is at covering kicks they are just as bad at returning them. The punt returns have gone for an average of 4.2 yards, and the long is only 15-yards. While the kickoff team has not had a return longer than 26; none for touchdowns and are only averaging a start of the 21-yard line.
Akron is not as lucky as the Tigers in the kicking game. The Zips kicker, Jason Swiger, does not have the accuracy or range, missing five of his seven attempts beyond 40 yards. His season long is 49, but he is not consistent at all.
The Zips, with their struggles on third downs, have had to use their punt team more frequently as well, and this has come with mixed results. The Zips have pinned 14 punts inside the 20, forced seven fair catches and had seven touchbacks. They have had one punt blocked and gave up two returns for touchdowns.
All-world return man Domenick Hixon is on both the kick and punts return teams and can have an impact on the game in either phase. Although he does not have a touchdown in either he is averaging 23.8 yards on kicks and has a 53-yard return on punts.
Memphis is a team that expected to be in a bowl game; and they are more than happy to be playing indoors on the turf at Ford Field. This team has one of the best RBs in the NCAA in Williams, and he would have been mentioned for a Heisman if not for Bush, Leinart and Young.
The Tigers are going to look to Williams to carry them in this game much like they did all season. They will need to step up the pass defense if they want to contain Luke Getsy and the Zips passing attack.
With a month to rest, Domenick Hixon should be healthy for this game, and has a chance to showcase his skills and possibly propel himself into some scouts mind for the April draft. Akron is a bit of a surprise to be in this game, winning the conference on the last play of the game versus Northern Illinois, but will look to ride that emotion to a victory.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.