Akron (0-2) played perhaps its best game of the Tom Arth era, under tough circumstances. Many folks outside of the Zips locker room would not have guessed Akron would be as competitive as they were given how things looked prior to kickoff.
Akron entered the contest against Ohio featuring a newly-minted roster, with more than 70 freshman, redshirt freshman, and first year transfers. The Zips were 27.5-point underdogs, coming off a week one loss by 45 points, carrying an 18-game losing streak, and going on the road.
To top it off, the Zips were short on players entering the game, as noted by Coach Arth in the post-game press conference: “the defense… (was) hit with a lot of adversity, wasn’t really sure if we were gonna be able to play, if we were gonna have enough guys.” (Arth didn’t detail why the players were not available).
Yet, Akron rose above the adversity to keep the game close, down only 17-10 heading late into the fourth quarter before Ohio salted the game away with a touchdown run by De’Montre Tuggle with 2:02 remaining.
We reviewed the Zips impressive effort and had the following takeaways.
Running Game Revival
The Zips ran the football against Ohio like they haven’t run it for a long time. The Zips gained 217 yards led by Teon Dollard, with 165 yards and 7.5 yards per carry. To put into perspective how great a day this was for Akron, the Zips had more yards vs Ohio than they averaged every four games just a year ago. In 2019, the Zips averaged 48 yards rushing per game, or a total of 192 yards every four games.
Adding more perspective, Dollard has more rushing yards after two games this year (232) than the Akron’s leading rusher had all last year in 12 games combined (Brandon Lee, 179 total rushing yards).
Thanks to this refreshed running game, the Zips won time of possession (34:53 to 25:07,) which helped keep the defense off the field and as fresh as possible. Akron’s defense responded by allowing just 24 points, a vast improvement over the 51 points surrendered in Week 1.
In his postgame press conference, Arth acknowledged the positive impact the Zips running game had on their defensive performance: “the ability to run the football, that helps your defense play great.”
The Offensive Line
The offensive line looks improved compared with 2019, which is all you could really hope for based on the inexperience of its members. Akron started four redshirt freshman, Ryan Beckman, Jordan Daniels, and Xavior Gray, and Owen Murphy, along with senior center Bryce Petersen. The group paved the way for 435 yards of total offense, a significant improvement over the 294 yards gained on average in 2019.
The line only allowed 3 sacks, down significantly from the 4.8 allowed last year.
Performances like the one last week make you start to wonder if this could be one of the better lines in the MAC in a few years, given how well they have done starting all these redshirt freshman.
RB Teon Dollard
In just his second game as a Zip, Dollard opened some eyes with 177 combined yards rushing and receiving. He did a solid job too in pass protection. In short order, Dollard has become the most explosive player on the Zips offense. In back-to-back games, Dollard has broken off some big runs of 39 and 45 yards, adding some much-needed punch to the Zips offense.
LB Bubba Arslanian
In 2019, senior LB John Lako was the heart and soul of the Zips defense and his graduation left a big hole to fill (we ranked Lako as our 14th best player in 2019. Lako finished the 2019 campaign as first-team, All-MAC selection. To find out why we thought Lako was such an important player, you can read our summary here).
Although Lako cannot be replaced, junior LB Bubba Arslanian may be emerging to become that next great Akron player and leader. Arslanian was all over the field against the Bobcats, making big plays on special teams and defense. Number 27 finished the game against Ohio with eight tackles and two sacks.
WR Nate Stewart
If one play typified the heart and effort on display by the Zips against Ohio, then we’d highlight the touchdown catch by team captain Nate Stewart. While the Zips moved the ball in the first half, the first real touchdown opportunity came late in the second quarter, from the Ohio 14-yard line.
Stewart caught the 14-yard pass on the Ohio goal line and hung on to the ball for a touchdown despite a ferocious (legal) hit by Ohio DB Tariq Drake. Great focus and toughness on display to hang on to that one for a touchdown.
Akron travels to rival Kent State to battle the Flashes for the Wagon Wheel on Tuesday November 17th. The game can be seen on ESPN U at 7pm Eastern. In the days leading up to kickoff, we plan on getting you ready for the action with our game preview.