Saturday was not Akron's day.
Nobody expected the Zips to contend for the upset, but Akron finished Saturday as the only FBS team to take the field and fail to score in the 2017 season (BYU was shut out by LSU, but won its opener 20-6).
Penn State, looking to defend its Big Ten title, was nothing short of spectacular in Happy Valley on Saturday morning. The Nittany Lions led 35-0 at halftime and kept their foot on the pedal until the clock struck 0:00. But what about Akron? What did we learn from a team that failed to prove much in a lopsided game?
Akron cannot contend with Top 25 teams
Akron's recent results against the AP Top 25:
- September 2, 2017: #6 Penn State 52, Akron 0
- October 15, 2016: #24 Western Michigan 41, Akron 0
- September 10, 2016: #10 Wisconsin 54, Akron 10
- September 5, 2015: #19 Oklahoma 41, Akron 3
There are Group of Five teams (i.e. Western Michigan against USC) that play well enough to scare ranked powerhouses. Akron has yet to maintain competitiveness when playing college football's elite in the past three seasons, losing by a total score of 188-13 to the four teams above. Instead, Akron collects a giant check from a program like Penn State, who is rewarded with an early September home game to get into a groove and appease the home fans with an easy victory.
Akron finished 8-5 with a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2015. Just because the Zips fail to compete against powerhouses doesn't mean that they are bound to miss bowl season; rather, it shows the Zips do not often enter seasons prepared to pull off an upset.
The Saquon Barkley Heisman hype is real
Akron's defense can now breathe a sigh of relief. The most talented running back the team will face all season has already run through the Zips defense, and impressed scouts and Heisman voters in the process.
Junior running back Saquon Barkley rushed for 172 yards on just 14 carries. He tore up the Akron defense with an 80-yard run in the early second quarter and later added to his impressive day with a 30-yard sprint down the left sideline to the end zone. Barkley is stronger and faster than the majority of the other 21 guys that share the field with him at any time. Akron was completely outmatched by the halfback, but for the Zips already have their toughest test behind them.
With Sam Darnold underperforming with two interceptions and zero touchdown passes on Saturday, Barkley could quickly rise as the nation's early Heisman frontrunner.
Four different Zips' athletes threw a pass in the blowout defeat in University Park. Quarterback Thomas Woodson finished 12-of-23 for just 71 yards and an interception. The other three passers combined for 2-of-6 for 15 yards. Woodson returned to the field in healthy form after missing time due to injuries in 2016. His accuracy suffered a bit in his 2017 debut, finishing with a quarterback rating of 14.4. Woodson never completed a pass over 13 yards, struggling on the deep ball and down-the-field passes.
Woodson must establish accuracy on long throws, even without his former star receiver Jerome Lane. The senior quarterback also needed to complete several short passes to gain rhythm to get the offense moving steadily down the field. That never happened, and the Zips only amounted to 159 yards of offense, compared to Penn State's 569.
The pass defense might be Akron's strong suit again
Any time a team loses 52-0, the defense is not in the best of shape. Between the rush defense and the pass defense, I'd say the former of the two requires more work. But the passing defense was solid and showed signs of potential.
Take Penn State's opening drive for example. The Nittany Lions drove the length of the field and were actually stopped in the red zone. Akron's defense managed to intercept a Trace McSorley pass — the unit's only forced turnover of the day. McSorley finished 2016 by avoiding interceptions in nine contests, but Akron's coverage unit was able to produce one.
Terry Bowden's team only allowed 21-of-31 of Penn State's passes to land in receivers' hands. The Nittany Lions tested backup quarterback Tommy Stevens after McSorley finished his day on the bench. In garbage time, Stevens completed just 3-of-6 passes. Akron's secondary isn't star-studded but it has proven that it could compete against offenses of lower caliber.
Big Ten-MAC matchups are getting tougher
For the MAC, September means a month of showdowns against the fellow Midwest conference, the Big Ten. The Big Ten usually takes most of the games in the "rivalry series", but the MAC often steals the occasional victory over a Purdue or an Illinois.
This year, the MAC is 0-4 against the Big Ten, with Akron ending up on the wrong side of the ugliest loss. Illinois edged Ball State, Michigan State dismantled Bowling Green, and Minnesota quietly defeated Buffalo on Thursday night.
Penn State looked like a true Playoff contender in the shutout victory, a spot James Franklin's program barely missed out on a season ago. Add Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin to this mix and the conference looks like the best in college football. Michigan State, Purdue, and Maryland all demonstrated major improvements on Saturday. Rutgers hung tight with Washington and Iowa crushed highly-touted NFL Draft prospect Josh Allen and Wyoming.
Next week, Ohio faces Purdue, Eastern Michigan faces Rutgers, and Western Michigan takes on Michigan State. Last season, the MAC would likely be favored in all three, but the Big Ten looks more than capable of winning all three of these games next week, based on Saturday's results.
That leaves us with one final question for thought: will the MAC defeat a Big Ten team this year?