Sunday, February 7, 2016
2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Akron Zips
2015 Record: 8-5 (5-3 MAC)
Bowl: Beat Utah State, Idaho Potato Bowl 23-21
What Went Right: Terry Bowden finally broke through with the Zips and won 8 games in 2015, taking them to the Idaho Potato Bowl, where the Zips upset Utah State. Akron won their final four regular season games to get into bowl position, and then won their bowl to finish the seasonw ith five straight wins. That's very unlike Akron in the last 20 years, so Bowden is now making his presence felt in the MAC.
Akron won largely on a very much improved defense in 2015, giving up just 21.5 points per game. Senior LB Jatavis Brown led the team with 20 TFLs in 2015 and was a driving spearhead that led Akron out of the darkness. Jamal Marcus was a force up front , racking up 12.5 TFLs, while Dylan Evans added another 12. 12 of those 20 TFLs for Brown went for sacks, and he led the team with 116 total tackles, making him our MAC defensive player of the year. Evans added an additional 106 tackles on the season, while Darryl Monroe added another 83. Junior DeAndre Scott was also good for 6 picks, making one of the most successful ball hawks in the nation. The defense averaged giving up just under 3 yards per carry rushing.
On offense, Akron showed their most improvement when it came to the passing game, and even though it was far from perfect, the Zips showed some major effort in this area. Thomas Woodson, a sophomore, passed for 2202 yards and 16 TDs. He needs to improve on accuracy in a big way, but this area has long been lacking in the Zip offensive arsenal.
Conor Hundley rushed for 10 TDs, giving the Zips a solid effort in the run game.
What Went Wrong: Early scheduling was a nightmare for Akron, as they opened with Oklahoma and Pittsburgh, and the Zips combined to score 10 points in those two losses.
The Zips, while showing some offensive improvement, were largely a one trick pony with a defense that covered the offense most of the season. Akron averaged just 23.9 points per game, and averaged just 5.13 yards per play on the year.
The return game was almost abysmal, as the Zips averaged just 5.16 yards per punt return, and just 16.62 yards per return on kickoffs.
The passing game, while improved in some areas, was still largely not big game ready, as Woodson completed just 52% of his passes, and tossed 11 picks to just 16 TDs. Some of his issues could be that coaches kept things conservative, but they could afford to unleash him just a bit next fall.
The Zips had to win four straight just to get to a bowl game after a rough start, and they cannot afford to get so far behind the ball next fall out of the gate.
Stars: RB Conor Hundley, WR/LB Jerome Lane, P Zach Paul, DB DeAndre Scott, LB Jatavis Brown, LB Dylan Evans, LB Darryl Monroe, DL Jamal Marcus
Best Win: Buffalo 42-21
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 41-3
Looking Ahead: Woodson has got to turn a corner to get the Zips back into the postseason next year, but he loses some serious helo as Hundley has moved on at RB. Van Edwards will be the most experienced back returning in 2016, and he carried just 14 times in 2015. Jerome Lane returns at WR after leading the Zips with a 20.05 yard per catch average and 8 TDs. That being said, for Woodson to improve, he will need more receivers to step up, most namely Austin Wolf, AJ Coney, Tyrell Goodman, and Anthony Young. That group caught just 36 passes combined in 2015, while Lane caught 38 by himself.
On defense, the line returns Jamal Marcus, and that is huge. Marcus will be the new leader of the defense with the departure of Jatavis Brown at LB. Rodeny Coe is also gone from the line, but Se'Von Pittman does return. There should be a mix of experience coming back on the line as well with Brock Boxen, Daumantus Venckus-Cucchiara, Richard Dorvilus, and Brennan Williams all returning. Brown is gone at LB, and that is a huge hit for the Zips defense, as is the loss of Dylan Evans and Darryl Monroe. Ulysees Gilbert III, John Rachal, and Andrew Hauser are the next group up, and they have huge shoes to fill. Kris Givens and Bryce Cheek are both gone at DB, but there should be some decent options returning among Zach Guiser, DeAndre Scott, Jordan George, Kyron Brown, and Larry Hope.
Robert Stein is gone at PK after a largely up and down season, so the Zips are starting over there, while Zach Paul also departs after averaging more than 41 yards per punt in 2015. Both replacements will be watched carefully from spring ball into fall camp.
The Zips non-conference schedule will be mostly brutal after their opener with VMI. Akron then gets Wisconsin, Marshall, and Appalachian State, all 2015 bowl teams, to wrap up non-con play.
2016 Projection: 5-7, no bowl