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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week One Reaction: Akron Zips

Sifting through the rubble for some positivity in Western Michigan’s demolition of Akron, 58-13

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Western Michigan at Akron Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When you lose a game 58-13, not a lot has gone well. Yet, there were some positives for Akron. We reviewed what happened from the Zips’ point of view in this one, with the following takeaways. We will focus on Western Michigan’s performance in an article to be published later this week.

Solid Start

The Zips played pretty well in the first quarter in all phases of the game. Akron began MACtion with a bang by attempting an onside kick which they recovered but was ultimately nullified by an offsides penalty.

Akron held WMU to a 48-yard FG on the Broncos’ opening drive, keyed by an 11-yard sack by Michael Scott.

The Zips then took a 7-3 lead on a crisp, six-play, 73-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass by QB Zach Gibson to WR Michael Mathison. The drive showed a lot of what Zips fans would like to see going forward.

The Zips had a nice opening script they executed well, where they mixed runs with quick passes (WR screen, 5-yard hitch, swing in the flats to the RB). Nice job by the coaching staff here, using quick passes to take the pressure off an offensive line starting four redshirt freshman.

The drive was keyed by an explosive play from new Zip RB Teon Dollard, a 45-yard run on 4th and one. If the Zips are going to turn this around, they need more explosive plays. To put this in perspective, the 45-yard run by Dollard on the opening drive of 2020 was longer than any run for the entire 2019 season (29 yards was the long). Nice block by senior center Bryce Petersen to key the long run.

Wheels come off the wagon

The game started to unravel at the end of the first quarter when an ill-advised throw by Gibson was intercepted by WMU’s A.J. Thomas for a pick-six. This play is an example of where not having QB Kato Nelson hurt the Zips. Nelson did not start the game, with the announcers pointing to continued recovery from offseason surgery on Kato’s throwing shoulder. Nelson probably does not make that pick-six throw, based on his history of taking care of the ball. Nelson has only 16 career interceptions in 762 attempts.

The skill and experience of WMU’s offensive and defensive lines took over at that point, to big effect. The Broncos were able to establish the running game for the first 20-25 minutes, then started hitting big passing plays against man coverage. The Zips did not look competitive for long stretches after that time, particularly on defense.

Most Encouraging for Zips Fans

Although they only scored 13 points, the Zips were able to move the ball with regularity well into the third quarter. They had three first-half drives resulting in points and moved into scoring position with six minutes left in the third.

New Players

Coming into this one, we knew the Zips would have a bunch of new faces in the starting lineup.

Akron started nine players who were freshman or transfers in 2020, led by four redshirt freshmen on the offensive line. Overall, the offensive line played fairly well, considering their inexperience and the talent and experience of the opposition. WMU only had three sacks, compared with the 4.8 sacks per game the Zips allowed last year. And that against what figures to be an above-average MAC defensive line.

A few notable debuts from the 2020 transfer ranks. Michigan transfer Safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell had six tackles. Sophomore junior college transfer Nazir Sy looked stout against the run at times as a rotational defensive lineman. RB Teon Dollard had 67 yards rushing and 4 receptions.

Tough to Watch

The biggest disappointments were some of the execution breakdowns by returning Zips, all too familiar from last year. While execution is never going to be perfect, it has to be improved if the Zips are going to get back on track.

For instance, you can’t have an 11-yard punt out of your own endzone with no significant pressure.

You need to connect on a throw to a wide-open player on the goal line who is standing still.

Notable Veterans

Some returnees with significant playing time last season showed some good things against WMU.

Junior Jeremiah Knight, WR/RB:

Knight could have a bigger role on the team this year based on the game vs WMU.

The Zips converted Knight, a WR in 2019, to more of a hybrid role of RB/WR against WMU, to good effect. Knight led the Zips in rushing, 74 yards on 11 carries. Knight also caught two passes for 18 yards and returned two kickoffs for 47 yards.

Knight assumed the role in the Zips offense played by Brandon Lee in 2019, where Lee would line up in the backfield at the traditional RB spot and either take a handoff or motion out to a WR position. Knight is significantly physically bigger than Lee at 5’11”, 195 pounds (Lee reported as 5’6”, 158 pounds) and may, therefore, be more effective in the RB part of the hybrid than Lee.

Sophomore Michael Mathison, WR:

One of Akron’s most explosive playmakers, Mathison had a solid start to 2020 with 6 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Sophomore Bryce Wilson, NT:

I really liked a lot of what I saw from this returning player. It’s not often you see someone stand-up second-team All-MAC guard Mike Caliendo in the hole on third-and-short the way Wilson did in this one. If you can win some battles against Caliendo, you have the potential to play in the MAC at a high level.

MAC Broadcasting Note

Anthony Lima, co-host of the Cleveland morning sports show, ‘The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima,’ made his MAC debut as play-by-play announcer and did a very nice job. He brought enthusiasm, called the game action well, and provided some solid commentary. Hope to see him calling more MAC games this year.