Some things we learned when watching the UMass Minutemen (1-4) defeat the Akron Zips (0-5, 0-1 MAC):
1. Akron’s offense was successful in several key areas:
In almost every way possible, Akron put together its best offensive performance of the year. Akron rolled to over 400 yards of total offense and and sustained multiple drives by converting 57% of its third-downs. Before the game vs UMass, the Zips had converted just 26% of its third down plays.
Say what you will, but it was a vast improvement from other offensive performances. If Akron can find a way to stop committing turnovers (which sealed their fate in this game,) then maye they can also start finding some momentum.
2. Akron has a bye-week to get healthy:
Starting QB Kato Nelson, a game-time decision, gutted-out the first half vs UMass but was unable to continue in the second half. Nelson was seen sporting a sling on his throwing arm in the second half, making his health moving forward an unknown.
TE Maverick Wolfley was unable to go vs UMass with an undisclosed injury. The more I see the sophomore in the passing game, the more I think Akron may have a weapon.
Akron’s passing game through five weeks has regularly attacked the perimeter of the defense and I think Wolfley, at 6’3”, 240 pounds, has the size to dominate in the middle of the field. This would help keep the defense honest in not overplaying the perimeter passing game and also provide a highly-visible target when teams regularly blitz, like UMass did this week.
LB DeMarkus Glover left the game with a shoulder or arm injury and did not return. Glover has come on lately, intercepting a pass in the first half before his departure.
3. Akron’s true freshman QB Zack Gibson’s career is off to a strong start:
Zach Gibson provided a much-needed spark in his Zips’ career debut when he entered the game with Akron trailing 34-14 with 4:43 remaining in the third-quarter and marched the Zips 80-yards in seven plays for a touchdown.
With the score 37-21, Gibson drove Akron almost the length of the field when Gibson’s 17 yard strike to WR Nate Stewart capped an 11-play, 98 yard touchdown drive.
Akron brought the contest to a one-score game, 37-29, on a two-point conversion pass from Stewart to Gibson. Stewart took the ball on a reverse and made a nice spin move to avoid defenders, then hit Gibson in the end zone.
Unfortunately, the Zips rally came up short when Akron was unable to get the ball back. UMass was able run out the last five minutes of the game on its final drive.
Gibson finished his debut completing 75% of his passes for 173 yards and a touchdown pass. He will likely be the favorite to start coming out of the BYE week over Robbie Kelley, who struggled in relief of Nelson.
4. UMass Senior QB Michael Curtis may be in the mix for starter:
Before the Akron game, Curtis was third-team QB with no game action in 2019. But with QBs Andrew Brito and Randall West both out, Curtis got the call and made the most of his opportunity. He showed good leadership and physical skills in guiding UMass to its first victory of 2019.
Curtis finished the day with 173 yards passing and two touchdown passes and ran for 69 more yards and a score.
Curtis should get some serious consideration moving forward after guiding UMass to its only win of the season.
5. Freshman factor:
Akron had several freshman whose performances stood out vs UMass. Gibson, as detailed above, provided a big spark to the offense. Wide receiver Michael Mathison led all Zips receivers with six receptions. RB Michiah Burton did not have a big statistical day, but the freshman walk-on did score a touchdown, picking up some tough yardage on short runs, and showing good pass-blocking instinct.
DE Eric Bentley continued show his potential as he recorded four tackles in a game for the fourth time in five games this year.