Oddly enough, despite being thumped by the Kentucky Wildcats 47-10 Saturday night, Akron showed signs of improvement. The coaches seemed to have a solid gameplan, and the Zips did a decent job at times executing it, but UK was just too much for Akron to handle.
There were some highlights. The special teams had their best all-around performance of the year, and were particularly effective shutting down Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke in this phase of the game. Zack Campbell had another nice performance (although busy again), punting 10 times including pinning Kentucky inside their own 20 on three occasions. Igor Iveljic was perfect kicking, and most importantly, there were no break-downs of any kind by the ST units.
Defensively, the Zips held their own for the better part of the first half, limiting Kentucky to just two field goals until late in the second quarter. The defensive coaching staff did a nice job preparing for Kentucky, and the Zips did their best to execute, but the Wildcats were just too fast for the Akron to handle. A perfect example of this occurred about mid-way through the third quarter when Derrick Locke appeared to be bottled up in the backfield by three separate Zips players. Locke then showed his elite speed by simply running around the Akron players and scoring on a 56 yard TD scamper. Against most MAC teams, it’s a seven yard loss- against an SEC team, it’s a long TD run. Although the score might not indicate it, the Zips defense is improving, and they made Kentucky earn their points.
Offensively, the Zips continue to struggle, but the coaches deserve credit again for putting together an effective gameplan. Akron had receivers running wide open in Kentucky’s secondary all day, but a combination of inaccurate throws and dropped passes almost entirely negated Akron’s advantages. Jeremy LaFrance dropped a sure touchdown bomb, one of the few beautifully thrown Patrick Nicely passes of the day. Jalil Carter was wide open en route to another TD when Nicely overshot him by about 10 yards, and Gary Pride had a good 15 yards on the closest defender when Nicely missed another obvious scoring opportunity, this time under-throwing the ball by about 10 yards. Nate Burney also dropped a beautifully set-up screen pass that very well would have resulted in a TD.
Kentucky’s defense stacked the box against Akron and dared them to beat them with the pass, but Akron just couldn’t execute. The running game never really got going either, although the stat of 67 net yards rushing is a bit deceiving as Patrick Nicely’s -31 yards (much of those resulting from his five sacks) made it look worse than it really was.
Things don’t get any easier for the Zips as they travel to Bloomington next Saturday to face the Indiana Hoosiers explosive offense. For what it’s worth, the Hoosiers and Wildcats shared a common opponent, and the Zips fared better against Kentucky than Western Kentucky (who lost to UK 63-28). Indiana was not as impressive against that same WKU team last week, eventually winning 38-21. Indiana was fairly one-dimensional against the Hilltoppers, only managing 100 of their 466 total yards on the ground. QB Ben Chappell was phenomenal, completing 32 of 42 passes for 366 yards and 3 TD’s. The Zips are a team that, on paper at least, should be able to compete with Indiana. If they improve as much this week as they did last, they’ll have a chance to win this game, and there won’t be many more chances on this years schedule.