2010 Akron Preview
Akron DT Almondo Sewell
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How far did Akron fall since winning the 2005 MAC title? It suffered four straight losing seasons, won only two games against FBS teams last year, and hasn't beaten an FBS team that finished with a winning record since that the MAC Championship stunner over Northern Illinois four years ago.
Head coach: Rob Ianello
Off. 22, Def. 26, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Akron Players
1. LB Brian Wagner, Soph.
2. DT Almondo Sewell, Sr.
3. OT Corey Woods, Sr.
4. LB Mike Thomas, Sr.
5. WR Jeremy LaFrance, Sr.
6. DE Hasan Hazime, Jr.
7. WR Jalil Carter, Sr.
8. CB Manley Waller, Jr.
9. DT James Harvey, Jr.
10. RB Alex Allen, Sr.
Sept. 4 Syracuse
Sept. 11 Gardner-Webb
Sept. 18 at Kentucky
Sept. 25 at Indiana
Oct. 2 NIU
Oct. 9 at Kent State
Oct. 16 at Ohio
Oct. 23 Western Mich
Oct. 30 at Temple
Nov. 6 at Ball State
Nov. 13 OPEN DATE
Nov. 16 Miami Univ.
Nov. 26 Buffalo
It's a span of 41 games since the program has come up with a decent win, and with things falling off the map in what needed to be a rebounding season, it became time for a big change.
In comes Rob Ianello from Notre Dame, and he could turn things around right away. While former head coach J.D. Brookhart might have struggled in his final year, he left the shelves stocked (relatively speaking) for the new regime. With 53 returning lettermen, eight starters back on defense and six on offense, there's enough experience, along with some decent young prospects waiting in the wings in several spots, that wonders might be done with a little bit of tweaking.
Gone is the quirky and oddly effective (at times) 3-3-5 defensive alignment, and in is the traditional 4-3 that might actually generate pressure on the quarterback from time to time. Gone is a spread offense that didn't go anywhere, and in comes a more normal pro style attack that should bring balance and more consistency after years of sputtering and coughing in key moments. But more than anything else, Ianello brings a bunch of new ideas and changes.
Sometimes a new coaching staff brings in a new energy and that alone makes all the difference. Instead of a coaching staff in desperation mode hanging on for dear life, a new staff, especially one with a jacked up new head coach like Ianello, can see things clearer. That might be the case this season as the Zips have to capitalize on the momentum and use all the returning experience to shine right away.
There's a nice mix in place to be an X factor in the MAC East race, and while no one will predict big things, the chances could be there to be the biggest surprise of the conference season.
What to watch for on offense: The pro-style attack. The line is big, experienced with three good starters returning, and ready to fire off and power its way for more of a power running game from time to time. Quarterback Patrick Nicely took his lumps as a true freshman, but he's a nice talent who should be far better in the new attack with several good running backs to carry the offense from time to time. Throw in a good 1-2 receiving punch of Jeremy LaFrance and Jalil Carter, and the players are in place to quickly be better. After averaging a mere 301 yards and 19.25 points per game, there's nowhere to go but up.
What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. The old 3-3-5 didn't get to the quarterback as the Zips finished 118th in the nation in sacks, but they weren't that bad at generating tackles for loss. Now, the front four should be stronger with star Almondo Sewell going from a 3-4 end to a more natural 4-3 tackle, while there are good options to form a good rotation across the front. The linebackers won't be as taxed to make every play, and that's a good thing with terrific playmakers in Brian Wagner and Mike Thomas able to work more in space. The shift should make the run defense better after finishing 91st in the nation.
The team will be far better if … the quarterbacks can keep the chains moving. The Zips were miserable on third downs converting just 32% of their chances, and they were a disaster on fourth down converting just 3-of-14 tries. The defense isn't good enough to carry the team, and it'll be up to the still-emerging quarterbacks to come up with a play or three to keep drives alive. Time of possession might be an overrated stat, but it matters here; the Zips were 113th in the nation holding on to the ball just 27:13 per game.
The schedule: For anyone else it would be Christmas over the first month. Syracuse, Gardner-Webb, at Kentucky and at Indiana is just light enough to allow the new schemes time to jell before diving into MAC play, and then there's a problem. Northern Illinois might be the league's best team, and that will hardly be an easy way to kick off the MAC campaign. Follow that up with road trips against a rejuvenated Kent State and at Ohio, and with a road game at Temple, likely the best team in the East, still to go, and it could be rough first two months. It'll take a few upsets to even think about a winning record, but if the Zips can put together four wins in the first ten games, there's a shot to finish strong with Miami University and Buffalo at home to close.
Best offensive player: Senior OT Corey Woods. He could stand to be a wee bit better in pass protection, but now that he's in a pro-style offense and isn't in a spread, he should shine. The 6-5, 305-pound all-star is a bit light for the NFL, but he has the skills to get a long look in a camp next year and he has to use this season to make a name for himself. The raw skills are there, but now he has to dominate.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Brian Wagner. DT Almondo Sewell could end up being the team's best defensive player and a four-time All-MAC star, but it's Wagner who's the tackling machine and the main playmaker. His stats might go down a bit now that he doesn't have to do everything to clean up the running game, but he's still going to be one of the league's most active players. His 132 tackles last year were 61 more than the No. 2 man and 74 more than the No. 3 guy.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Patrick Nicely. The backup option, Matt Rodgers, has a knee problem and hasn't been able to fight for the starting job, but it might be Nicely's gig no matter what. The 6-4, 215-pounder true sophomore had his moments over the second half of last year with 261 yards against Kent State and 259 against Bowling Green, while showing off a little bit of mobility. The potential is there to blow up with a little bit of time in the new attack.
The season will be a success if … the Zips win six games. The schedule isn't a peach and there are few gimmes, but the team has enough experience and enough talent to sneak out a few MAC wins it shouldn't (like at Ohio) and there can't be any slip ups at home against teams like Miami University or Buffalo. The key will be to win the close games; Akron has to own games decided by a touchdown or less.
Key game: Oct. 2 vs. Northern Illinois. With four of the next five MAC games on the road, the Zips have to take advantage of the home dates whenever possible. It's not going to be easy against a Huskie team loaded with one of the league's most dangerous ground games and most athletic defense. It's a bad matchup for Akron, but a loss might pave the way for an awful start to the conference season.
2009 Fun Stats:
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: Opponents 106 – Akron 45
- Sacks: Opponents 26 for 165 yards – Akron 11 for 63 yards
- Punt return average: Opponents 11 yards per try – Akron 6.4 yards per try
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