What we learned by watching the Zips in a 42-3 loss to Illinois:
Illinois investment in the transfer portal paid immediate dividends:
While the jury is still out on how much Illinois improved and how much of its success was was due to its opponent’s play, its clear enough that the transfer portal helped Illinois. Michigan transfer QB Brandon Peters accounted for 4 scores combined on the air and ground. USC transfer defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. had six tackles and one-and-a-half sacks. Another USC transfer, wide receiver Trevon Sidney, caught a touchdown pass. Washington transfer linebacker Milo Eifler had 2 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed.
Akron needs immediate special teams improvement:
There is nothing more catastrophic to a team’s competitive chances than poor special teams play: it is instant death.
Akron started the game with a short kickoff that gave Illinois the ball in great field position: its own 37 yard line. It is ok to kick short but it has to be high enough to allow no return or minimal return.
The major special team issue was punting, where Akron finished with 7 punts for a 30.4 yard average. And when you factor in the Illinois return yards, the average change in field position was 27 yards. Compare this with Illinois, who had 4 punts for a 46.0 yard average and average change in field position of 44 yards. So Illinois changed field position on punts 17 more yards on average than Akron. That is almost two first downs more per drive.
The low trajectory of the punts is a concern too because those punts cannot be covered before the return catches and starts to return the ball.
Akron also missed a 43-yard FG late.
Akron’s running game has not improved
Akron averaged 95.3 rushing per contest which was 125th in the FBS (out of 129 teams) and 2.93 yards per rush. Akron rushed for 64 yards against Illinois yesterday for 1.7 yard average on 38 carries. Illinois did make an effort to control the middle of the defense sometimes which took away the interior running but what makes this yard per carry seem worse is that Illinois had this kind of success while playing a good deal of zone defense with no run blitzing.
Akron’s wide receiver Nate Stewart is improved
Nate Stewart was a clear part of the gameplan and he responded with five catches for 79 yards. He is something Akron can build around.
Akron’s linebackers are something to build upon
LBs Bubba Arslanian and John Lako combined for 19 tackles, a sack, and a pass defensed and had good stretches, like in the second quarter when the defense forced a punt and a missed field goal on back-to-back drives.