It's been a long time since the Akron Zips played like they did on Saturday. Yes, Terry Bowden's Zips have had their share of blowouts in his tenure at Akron, but none have ever been like this. In fact, it's been over a decade since Akron won like that.
In November of 2002, Lee Owens and Charlie Frye went a few miles down the road and throttled the Kent State Golden Flashes by 38. The closest to 21 points since then came in 2008 in a 22-3 win at West Point over Army.
What? Is 21 points not big enough of a beating to consider this a blowout? Well, being up 35-7 with just over six minutes to play while on the road against one of the more respected Group of 5 teams in the country is good enough for me. But that's not the point -- it's been forever since Akron embarrassed a team on the road, and it felt good.
Thomas Woodson made two starts last year and lost both of them. Losses to Ohio and Ball State in the middle of the season ultimately derailed the season, and Woodson's mediocre play was a contributing factor, so there was concern coming into this game that there may be a repeat of last year's Tommy.
Well, it wasn't. The young gunslinger came out and threw for 238 yards in the air, 93 on the ground and three total touchdowns. He threw the ball away when he had to, he ran out of bounds and slid when he should have, and he didn't get too confident in his cannon of an arm. It was also the first time in a long time that the receiving corps had a huge impact on the game. There were still a few unacceptable drops, but it looks like the Akron receivers are finally becoming playmakers.
Woodson connected with sophomore Austin Wolf twice in the game, each being on deep throws. One of them was good enough for #9 on ESPN's Top 10 plays, and the other was a 29-yarder to the one yard line, which set up a Conor Hundley touchdown run. Another Akron touchdown came on a 72-yard catch and run by converted linebacker Jerome Lane on the first play of the drive.
A balanced attack of passing and throwing gave an offense that struggled mightily up to this game 458 yards and all of the confidence in the world. It will be hard to have performances like this against some of the great MAC East defenses, but the fact that it is possible to have performances like this against a team like Louisiana is promising for the future.
A.J. Milwee on the sidelines
Since the 29-year-old took over the offensive coordinator duties in 2013, Akron hasn't seen its offense perform anywhere close to where it did in 2012. Bowden being the play caller and having a quarterback like Dalton Williams were big factors, but the offenses of 2013 and 2014 left quite a bit to be desired. Even through four games of 2015, we still don't know whether to expect a run-oriented offense, or more of what we saw last year. Woodson seems like he can do a bit of both, though.
Milwee was on the sidelines for the first time (to my knowledge) since taking over the play calling duties, and you could tell that something had gotten into him by the look of the offense. His calls for deep passes were aggressive and they used the running backs Conor Hundley and Donnell Alexander effectively. There were more passes over the middle when driving down the field as well as there being fewer passes closer to the goal line. The mix of pass and run was like a match made in heaven, as the Zips ran for 220 on top of 238 passing from Woodson. They didn't get conservative with the lead, either. That was the difference in this Bowden win compared to all of the others. The offensive line also deserves credit. Now under its third coach in as many years, the line of five seniors didn't look like a group of experienced seniors until the game at Louisiana--the most important of the non-conference slate.
I expect A.J. to be down on the sidelines again this week against Ohio, as it could have led to more chemistry between him and his players, especially the quarterback.
The defense, of course
With just over two minutes to go in the first half, the Cajuns trailed the Zips 14-7 and they were driving. A touchdown would have tied it up before the half if not for a goal line stand by the Akron defense. On fourth and goal at the one, Elijah McGuire got the carry and was stuffed at the line giving Akron the ball with a seven-point lead just before the half. The ball was less than five inches from being in the end zone, so a couple of quarterback sneaks and a hand off got the ball to the six, where Akron would recover a fumble on the punt before running out the clock.
That sequence drained the Cajuns of hope at that point, and the Zips ended up taking advantage in the second half. If I were a betting man, I would put money on the idea that if Louisiana had punched it in on fourth and goal to tie it up, they would have eventually won the game. They would have taken the momentum into the half, and ran away with the game. I've seen it happen all too often, but it didn't this time.
Chuck Amato's defense held the Cajun offense to 4.6 yards per passing attempt and they picked off 2 passes. DeAndre Scott got his third of the year, and Dylan Evans got the first of his career. The strength of Louisiana is in the run game, though, and that never got going. They only ran 28 times and gained 112 yards, so 4 yards per carry, which is 1.3 YPC less than Kentucky gave up to the same team.
Moving into the conference season, the defense may end up having to give up 21 points or less to have a chance to win, as the offense is still unknown despite an amazing performance at Louisiana.
What does it all mean?
Akron hasn't had an offensive performance like that against and FBS opponent in a very long time. If Woodson can continue to prove that he is the best fit for this offense, the possibilities are endless. The drops must be minimized and the experienced offensive line has to keep playing like the experienced line that it is. The defense isn't perfect either. There have been too many stupid penalties that are easily avoidable. A little discipline goes a long way in football. To go with the offense and defense, the special teams must be better as well. Zach Paul has had more bad punts this year than he has in his entire career, and Robert Stein in 2-4 on field goals. They're both seniors that can be much better, and I expect them to be, or they could lose their starting status.
The team that went to Louisiana without any hints at an identity is starting to develop one. If that translates to a win over Ohio University this week, don't be shocked to see the Akron Zips competing for a trip to Detroit come November. I make no guarantees, but a MAC East title and a bowl game are still realistic goals for this team.