Last Thursday Zips fans were in full panic mode as The University of Akron football team got off to a less-than-harmonious start to the season, losing 38-7 to the University of Central Florida Knights.
Despite Akron’s inglorious return to college football, the outcome of last Thursday’s game greatly overshadows the vast improvements the Zips showed in their debut.
The improvements can be seen both in the Zips’ stat sheet as well as the physical prowess of the offensive and defensive lines. Stats are a far cry away from winning games; there are several things to make note of.
One of Akron’s greatest weaknesses last season was the defense and, though it is still a liability, the Zips showed improvement in last Thursday’s game. On several occasions the defense was able to hold the Knights offense to three-and-out series, including an impressive three-and-out defensive stance that occurred after a fumbled punt return.
The defense was also able to consistently apply pressure to the quarterback, something that the team was rarely able to do last year. All of last season the Knights’ offensive line allowed an average of approximately 1.9 sacks per game. Two of those sacks were against Akron for a loss of 10 yards. This year the Zips were able to double that number, reaching the quarterback four times for a loss of 22 yards.
In addition to the pressure on the quarterback, several linebackers have begun to emerge as playmakers. Florida State University transfer C.J. Mizell, who saw limited action last Thursday due to late arrival to fall camp, was impressive with his speed and play reading ability, accumulating four tackles.
The most impressive linebacker of the evening, however, was Jatavis Brown, who has lived up to the potential he has shown throughout fall camp. Brown accumulated six tackles on the evening, with one being for a loss of two yards.
The pass defense is still an area of concern for the Zips. Akron’s defensive backs were consistently beat by their offensive opponents, leading to an impressive 319 yards on 19 completions and three touchdowns for the UCF passing attack. Being able to apply consistent pressure on the quarterback will likely help the pass defense but until the defense can consistently force opponent quarterbacks into bad plays and forced turnovers, this will still be the greatest concern for the Zips going forward.
Junior quarterback Kyle Pohl debuted in his first collegiate start against the Knights. Pohl is expected to continue the success that the Zips offense had last year in the passing attack, which was ranked 16th nationally. Last Thursday’s performance, however, was somewhat lacking of this expectation.
Pohl threw 98 yards on 16 attempts with no touchdowns and one interception. This lackluster performance may be attributed to conservative play calling on behalf of the coaching staff, the defensive improvements of UCF or the inability of Zips wide receivers to break coverage.
However, Pohl will be the deciding factor in whether or not the Zips will be able to turn themselves around this season and will be the offensive player to watch against James Madison University this weekend.
To add to the offensive woes, last year’s star running back Jawon Chisholm experienced a lackluster performance as well, accumulating 10 yards on 11 attempts. In addition to poor production, Chisholm appeared to shy away from direct hits by racing out of bounds as opposed to competing for additional yards.
Chisholm clearly has star potential in this offense, accumulating nearly 1,000 yards in the previous two seasons. With that said, however, Chisholm will need to show vast improvement this weekend in order to warrant his position on the depth chart ahead of sophomore Conor Hundley and freshman D.J. Jones who both produced better results on fewer attempts last Thursday.
Not all was bad for the Akron offense however, two freshmen wide receivers showed immense potential in the waning minutes of the game. Mykel Traylor-Bennett and Fransohn Bickley were the top two receivers of the evening, hauling in three passes each for 25 and 26 yards respectively.
The quick development of these freshmen receivers is a good omen for the future of Zips football as the offense will continue to be the cornerstone of Akron’s return to relevance.