Five years ago on September 5th the Akron Zips traveled to State College, Pennsylvania to collect their annual beatdown and paycheck from a Big Ten school. That's exactly what happened, as the Zips were spanked by Penn State 31-7 with all of the Nittany Lions' points coming in the first half.
Fast forward to Saturday, and Akron is in the same situation. Except the outcome was of a much different variety. Yes, the Zips lost 21-3 and were out-gained 425-277. If you really dig deep down into it though, this game was much closer than the final score shows.
Akron's downfall can be pointed to one thing: missed opportunities. The first drive of the game was a great one. Kyle Pohl was finding open receivers and Jawon Chisholm was gaining some yards on the ground. The Zips had a first and goal at the Penn State seven-yard line, and after two consecutive sacks (and a burnt timeout) Akron had to settle for what should have been a chip-shot field goal. Should have been is the operative term, as the 25-yard field goal was shanked by freshman kicker Tom O'Leary. That's O'Leary's second missed field goal under thirty yards this year.
That wasn't the only drive that should have ended in points. In the middle of the second quarter the Zips were putting together a nice drive and got into PSU territory. With a first and ten at the Nittany Lion 39, one first down should have gotten them some points. Alas that wasn't in the cards either, as two incompletions led to a punt. Some would say Terry Bowden should have been less conservative with a punt call on 4th and 5 at the opponent 35 yard line, but it was still early in the game.
After halftime Akron picked up a fumble and was suddenly in Penn State territory. Two nice passes by Pohl to Mykel Traylor-Bennett and Fransohn Bickley set Akron up with a first and ten at Penn State's fifteen. Surely a touchdown was to be had, right? Nope. Two incomplete passes and a one-yard run left Akron with just a field goal try, which Robert Stein nailed from 28 yards out.
The fourth quarter was where things really started going downhill. It started great with Akron intercepting Christian Hackenburg and returning the ball to the Penn State 47. With the Zips only down 14-3 a score would make it a one-possession game. Akron had a fourth and one at Penn State's 38 but couldn't convert. Two plays later Hackenburg found Jesse James for a long touchdown pass and the game became seemingly out of reach.
The Zips' last possession got them down to Penn State's 13-yard line but again a failed fourth down conversion ultimately sealed the deal. All told Akron had the football in Penn State territory five times. They ended up scoring three points. That's not going to cut it when you're trying to win a game.
Going 5-17 (29%) on third down is not great at all and prevented the Zips from having many prolonged drives. Giving credit to where credit is due, Penn State is a pretty good team and has a great defense. They're not top of the Big Ten by any means, but still a very good opponent. Akron showed some mettle coming into to a raucous atmosphere and hanging with a solid team throughout the game.
Five years ago seems like an eternity when talking about the Akron football program. They were just beginning the downfall which led to a bottoming out during the Ianello years. With Bowden now at the helm, Akron is pointing upwards and just may get to a bowl game this year. Even in a loss, one can see how much improvement the Akron program has had in just five years.
By the way, Bowden (who looks great after dropping a bunch of weight) has the best hair:
The Zips get a week off before Marshall comes to InfoCision Stadium. That should be a fun one.