Here is what I learned about the Akron Zips after watching game two of the 2019 season:
1. Akron’s players are tough and resilient:
Akron’s players have continued to battle through adversity to do the best they can to win games. Junior and senior defensive players are on their third coordinator in three years and the Zips started the first six-plus quarters of the 2019 season on the losing end of a 73-9 score. Yet in the second half of the game against UAB, with the score of 31-6, Akron continued to battle to make the score 31-20 by the end of the game.
2. The turnover pencil makes its debut:
Miami Hurricanes’ turnover chain sparked a turnover token craze that has caught on across the FBS. After intercepting a pass against UAB, Akron’s Jordyn Riley was seen on the sideline with the ‘turnover pencil:’ a giant yellow pencil with ‘OUR STORY #OURWAY’ emblazoned across the front in blue letters (a color scheme resembling Akron’s team colors).
National news outlets were impressed with the pencil, as Sports Illustrated called it ‘the best turnover prop you’ll see this season’ and CBS Sports added a story about it providing a a picture of Jordyn Riley holding the pencil.
3. Linebacker John Lako:
Lako’s play through the first two weeks confirms why we selected him as one of the top 25 players in the MAC for 2019. He was all over the field against UAB and has 22 tackles after two games.
4. Akron’s passing game looked improved:
The passing game was able to get a few things done against UAB. QB Kato Nelson finished the day 359 yards and 2 touchdowns with some nice touch on passes like the 35-yard connection that led to a Zips touchdown in the fourth quarter.
A new playmaker emerged at wideout: meet junior Dustin Burkhart. Prior to the UAB game, Burkhart had 2 career catches with Akron. Given a chance to show what he could do, Burkhart had eight catches for 217 yards against UAB, including a circus catch that caromed off the helmet of a UAB defender for a 64-yard gain.
Wide receiver Nate Stewart continues to make plays. After 5 catches for 79 yards against Illinois last week, Stewart caught 4 passes including a six-yard touchdown against UAB.
RB Brandon Lee and WR Jeremiah Knight were factors with four receptions each.
5. What’s old was new again: issues in week one that were issues in week two
Akron’s special teams play was a major factor in the loss, causing a 14 points swing with the following plays; a missed extra point, a missed 35-yard field goal, and punts of 4 and 27 yards which led to ten UAB points.
Akron’s punt return team also had two turnovers which did not result in points as one was at the end of the game and the other resulted in a missed field goal by UAB.
Akron adds the hashtag ‘HereToDevelop’ on to all of its tweets and Akron fans may be in for some growing pains on special teams.
Akron’s punter Jonah Wieland punter and kicker Jerry Fitschen both had their first punts and field goal attempts a week ago against Illinois, so it is understandable that consistent result might take time.
Wieland had some punts against UAB which showed why he is in the game, including a 34-yard punt that pinned UAB back to its 12-yard line and a 54-yard punt. A consistent punt game is critical to Akron’s overall chances because the number of times Akron has punted this season (16) has put Akron’s defense back on the field with regularity.
On the season, kicker Fitschen is 1-3 on field goal attempts and 2-3 on PATs.
The Running Game:
It is early in the season and Akron has had to pass more being behind in its first two games, but the status of Akron’s running game is worth watching.
There are many ways to win FBS football games and all do not require an FBS-leading running game. For example, in 2018, the Washington State Cougars finished 11-2 and Co-Division champs in the PAC 12 while placing 128th (out of 129 teams) in rushing yards per game with 78 yards a contest and 115th with 3.59 yards per carry. The Northwestern Wildcats, 2018 Big Ten Division champs, was 119th in rushing yards per game with 115 yards a contest and 124th with 3.11 yards per carry.
Akron’s 2019 rushing attack after two games is ranked 128th out of 130 teams in rushing yards per game with 49 per contest and 129th with 1.46 yards per carry.
Where the rushing numbers are a problem for Akron based on early returns for 2019 is that they are not doing the things Northwestern and Washington State were doing in 2018 to win games. For example, Northwestern and Washington State finished 2018 in the top 43 FBS teams for scoring defense. Akron is currently 119th in scoring defense.
And its not just the rushing game ranking, but the overall ineffectiveness is below even the low-ranked teams. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane are in the bottom 10 in the country in 2019 with 2.32 yards per carry but Akron is averaging less than half of that with 1.14 yards a carry.