Akron football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Zips, best players and season prediction.
Well that was a whole bunch of fun, but what do you do now if you’re Akron and everything was leading up to 2015?
Give head coach Terry Bowden credit for doing a nice rebuilding job with the Zip program that needed to start over and in four years cranking out one of the best seasons of Akron football in decades. But it took a while and it took a lot of work.
The Zips went through the lumps under Bowden for three seasons, but last year it all came together with a senior-laden team that cranked up the defense on the way to an 8-5 record and five straight wins to close out the year. Legitimized by the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win over Utah State, last year’s team grew as the season went on.
And now it’s time to start from scratch again.
The program is in a better spot than it was when Bowden took over, but after losing eight starters off the terrific D, both kickers, all five starting offensive linemen, and all the top running backs, it’s going to be a little while to get back to a season like 2015.
But Bowden has put in a nice base of players to work around and hope for some spark, at least from the offense. The pass rush should be okay, and the secondary fine, but getting back to eight wins and a bowl might be a stretch considering all the youth.
There will be some lump-taking, but now that Akron has had a taste of success again, anything less than another winning season is going to be a big step back.
What You Need To Know About The Akron Zips Offense
The Zip offense couldn’t seem to get going on a consistent basis last year with a mediocre passing game and okay ground attack, but it did a good job of holding serve and letting the defense do the rest. This time around there’s going to be a big issue with most of the running back production gone and all five starters done up front. On the plus side, QB Thomas Woodson returns along with a good receiving corps that could be just good enough to start pushing the ball deep a bit more.
Biggest Key To The Akron Offense
How fast can the offensive line come together? The Zips have the potential to be good in the backfield, and the passing game can certainly improve, but all five starters are gone from an O line that wasn’t exactly dominant. It was good, and the running game was fine, but the Zip season could come down to whether or not this group can be cohesive in a hurry.
What You Need To Know About The Akron Zips Defense
Dominant in 2015, the Zips finished third in the nation against the run and did a terrific job of getting into the backfield. This time around there are just enough good pieces back to hope for a good year, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get over the loss of DTs Rodney Coe and Cody Grice off the line considering all three linebackers – led by MAC Defensive Player of the Year Jatavis Brown – are done. Fortunately, the secondary has a good pair of playmakers in CB Scott De’Andre and FS Zach Guiser, but overall the D will take a huge step back.
Biggest Key To The Akron Defense
How do you replace the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and a linebacking corps that was so dominant against the run? The Zips lose Jatavis Brown off the weakside along with Darryl Monroe in the middle and Dylan Evans on the strongside. These were the top team’s top three tacklers – Brown, Evans, Monroe – and turned into the heart-and-soul of the team. The leadership will be missed just as much as the production.
Akron will be far better if …
It doesn’t get penalized so much. It was sort of okay to get flagged close to eight times a game with a veteran defense able to pick up the slack, and a ball control offense able to grind drives out, but this year’s team can’t afford to make so many mistakes. The Zips were caught sinning eight times or more in seven games.
Best Akron Zips Offensive Player
QB Thomas Woodson, Jr. – He’s going to have to carry the offense at times and he has to be far more consistent. A stocky, strong runner, he’ll take off in the Zip spread attack as the main option from the start, and he should be good for at least 200 passing yards per game. Now he has to slow down with the picks after throwing 11 last year, and he needs to be more explosive.
Best Akron Zips Defensive Player
DE Jamal Marcus, Sr. – He was helped by being a cog in the system and not being keyed on. That’s going to change this year as the main man for the defensive front that loses both tackles. Can he be a steady pass rusher on a consistent basis? He should explode from time to time, and he has the burst, but he has to go from being a Third Team All-MAC performer to an unstoppable star.
Key Player To A Successful Season
LB Ulyssees Gilbert III, Soph. – Can he become another Jatavis Brown? He’s going to get one of the first looks on the weakside after stepping in here and there last season making 11 tackles, but he’ll move around where needed. The Ocala, Florida native has the tools and the burst to be a top tackler, and he’ll have to be a big-time producer with all three linebackers done.
The Akron Zips Season Will Be A Success If …
They win six games. Remember, this isn’t a program used to winning seasons, but getting bowl eligible would a massive positive considering all the key losses and the lack of experience. With non-conference games against Wisconsin, Marshall, and Appalachian State, it’s going to be tough to do more before the MAC campaign – outside of the opener against VMI – but the D should still be good and the formula should still work to be decent in MAC action.
Oct. 15 vs. Western Michigan. Even in a rebuilding season, Akron should be strong enough to beat Kent State in the MAC opener and Miami University to follow – at least it had better be good enough. To have any shot at making any real noise in the conference, getting by Western Michigan at home is a must, especially with road trips at Ball State and Buffalo to follow.
2015 Akron Zips Fun Stats
– Rushing Yards: Akron 2,143 – Opponents 2.9
– Sacks: Akron 33 – Opponents 15
– Completion Percentage: Opponents 59% – Akron 49.7%