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Just before kickoff, a paraglider of sorts flew across the field at about sixty feet overhead. Not expecting it, I thought the guy was going to plow through the new Dix Stadium scoreboard. The Kent State personnel didn't blink so it must have been part of the Homecoming festivities.
The teams traded three-and-outs to start the game. Akron faced a third-and-long because Kent State stuffed Alex Allen twice for losses. On the next series, Allen hit a hole for 17 yards.
Akron is running the Wildcat offense. With it, Jalil Carter busted for a 34-yard run to the goal line. Obviously, Akron has been practicing that. I watched enough practices in August to see a good deal of Wildcat. I was in a tough position, where the coach asked me not to report it. Now that you've seen the formation, the secret is out.
Allen finished off the drive with a touchdown run. No one touched him.
After that first drive, I thought this would be a low-scoring game. Kent State was getting into the Zips' backfield simultaneously with the handoff. The difference might be running through the tackles, which Akron did on its scoring drive.
Spencer Keith had Dri Archer wide-the-heck open along the left sideline, and Archer dropped it.
Kent State backed Akron up with a beautiful punt to the 2-yard line. After a couple failed running plays, the Zips are wedged up against the goal line. They committed two false starts in a row, and I think they were wise to do so. The ball literally is not moving back because of the penalty. "Half the distance" is de minimus. So Rob Ianello is trying to draw Kent State offsides -- or so it seems.
Nicely threw a TAINT (touchdown after INT). In traditional football terms, Nicely sat in the pocket for about six seconds, not really having an option. He threw an interception to Dan Hartman, who returned it for six points.
More Wildcat from Akron. This time, it's Antoine Russell in the shotgun, who gained eight yards. It shows how much Ianello values a win against the rival that he waited this long to reveal the Wildcat package.
END OF FIRST QUARTER -- Akron 7, Kent 7
This game is going very slowly. I can't stand media timeouts. If I am running a football program, I wouldn't mind if none of the home games are televised. The long breaks take the crowd out of the game, and the fact it's on TV gives fans the option to stay at home to watch it. This game is on SportsTime Ohio.
Shawn Lemon has done a nice job rushing at Keith.
Keith threw a beautiful fade pass to Tyshon Goode as Goode sprinted to the right corner of the endzone. The touchdown gives Kent State its first lead.
It appears to be close to a sellout today. There aren't many open seats that I can see. Kent State set a meager goal of 90,000 fans, and it appears as if they're going to hit it. It definitely helps when the Kent-Akron game is at your place.
Zack Campbell is booming his punts today. From the Zips' 40-yard line, he flew it into the opposite endzone.
Back to the 90KSU campaign ... Maybe Akron can learn a lesson from this. Ianello and Tom Wistrcill have primarily big-college experience. At those schools, you would never set a goal so pathetic as saying, "Let's just satisfy the NCAA minimum requirement." And if you did set such a goal, you'd keep it internal. What Kent State did was broadcast the issue -- literally. If nothing else, it gave the community an idea of how attendance is critical to maintaining Kent State at football's highest level. KSU's athletic director Joel Nielsen is from the University of South Dakota.
Jacquise Terry ripped through the line for a rushing touchdown. That puts KSU up by 14 with two minutes left in the half.
The referee got jumbled up in a Cobrani Mixon tackle, which earned a gasp from the crowd. The ref got up OK.
The Zips just showed off some LSU-esque clock management. At the 30-yard line with one timeout left and 30 seconds on the clock, Allen carries the ball for a minimal gain. Twenty seconds tick off the clock. Nicely gets sacked on the next play and Ianello called timeout. Igor Iveljic made a 41-yard field goal, but the coaches eliminated any opportunity for a touchdown with the running play. I think most people would agree that Ianello has been too conservative at times this season.
HALFTIME -- Akron 10, Kent State 21
I can't remember ever liveblogging a football game. The reason is, if I'm going to be at a game, I want to tailgate. That's the best part about football in this part of Ohio. You can't count on winning, or even being competitive, but it's bearable with some delicious meats and beverages. I'm liveblogging this game because I was in Cleveland today.
Josh Cribbs is tweeting about the game. A lot of people think Twitter is silly, but it is probably the most useful thing I have on my phone. I can get my all of my news in one convenient place. You should try it. And follow me.
As a writer, I also enjoy this rivalry. It spikes my readership through the fan-to-fan debate. As you can tell, I do my best to throw gas on the flames, too. As much as the fans try to distinguish Kent from Akron, and vice versa, these schools are very similar. Both have historical significance for some reason or another and fields of strength academically. Both have problems (hippies for Kent, crime near campus for Akron). The athletic departments have even more in common -- great basketball teams, below average football teams, and at least one team in a "secondary" sport that is nationally prominent.
Speaking of basketball, Keith Dambrot suspended Brett McKnight for 30 days for breaking team rules.
Today's attendance of 24,221 is the third-highest in Dix Stadium history. The weather is flawless, and that must have helped attract a larger walk-up crowd than anticipated.
The refs called another personal foul for a late hit by Kent State. They have been quite liberal making that call today.
On consecutive plays, Akron was flagged for holding and intentional grounding. The Zips were looking at third-and-37. One of the Kent State pass rushers gave Akron a TARP-like bailout by tugging on Nicely's facemask. First down. If the Zips score here, that penalty will have been harmful for Kent.
The Zips faked a field goal and scored six instead of three. Jeremy LaFrance was the holder. He kept the ball and trudged 10 yards, through the line and into the endzone. Campbell, the punter, is listed as the usual holder. Doug Martin should have been alerted to one of Akron's playmakers taking that role. That facemask penalty could end up changing the outcome of this game.
It's becoming clear that Akron's secondary is really bad. At least three times, a Kent State receiver has been wide open -- no one within spitting distance -- and Keith has thrown to him.
The Zips stopped Kent State on a fourth-and-one try on Akron's 30-yard line. The momentum belongs to the Zips. This will be an important possession, where Akron has a chance to retake the lead. ... The Zips went three-and-out.
END OF THIRD QUARTER - Akron 17, Kent State 21
This is becoming a field-position battle. I get the feeling the game will swing on one big play.
And there it was. Nicely fumbled while scrambling. Kent State has the ball on Akron's 29.
Akron's defense really impressed me by minimizing the damage from the fumble. Kent State went nowhere, and its drive ended with a sack by Lemon, who is having an impactful game. The Zips did still lose some field position, as they'll now start on the 8.
The Zips almost gave the ball away again. It was a gimmick play where the ball was handed off twice and wound up with Nicely. The ball slipped out of his hand as he attempted to throw. A Zip fell on it, but Akron lost 12 yards on the play. Nicely was sacked again on third down, so the Zips will punt it back with 8:20 left.
This is a close game, but I have to admit I'm losing interest because of these long breaks. Rather, I'm reading which candidates the ABJ endorsed. I'm glad to see they picked my buddy Frank LaRose for Ohio Senate.
Kent State has a difficult choice on fourth-and-1. Martin called timeout to think it over. I would punt. You only go for it if the clock is low enough that a conversion means the game's over. Here, you're giving the Zips better field position, and they aren't moving the ball. Also, Akron already stuffed Kent State once. ... Martin's not punting. Kent got the first down, proving me wrong.
Akron forced a punt on the next set of downs. The Zips will start on the 5. With only 4:06 left, this might be a score-or-lose situation.
Nicely fumbled in the endzone. Kent State fell on it. Touchdown Flashes.
Carter returned the kickoff to the 45. Another personal foul on KSU moved Akron to the Flashes' 40.
Nicely threw a lob into the endzone into double coverage, and it was intercepted. Not a good game for Number 7.
Nicely has faced a lot of defensive pressure today, so some of the blame must go on the line. Still, the quarterback neglected to protect the ball.
The good news for you gamblers (in Vegas) is that Akron will probably cover the astronomical spread of 17 points.
They are playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." That makes two of my most hated teams that play one of my favorite songs by my favorite band (Chicago White Sox is the other team).
Akron will be 0-6. The team looked better in many ways today, but we also were playing a one-win MAC team. Kent State is back in the MAC East race, but the defense did not impress me much. As we thought at the beginning of the season, this division will likely be Temple's to lose.
After a punt, Akron had another chance. And Nicely pitched it right back to them. That's the third interception to go with three fumbles (two lost). He was 16-for-33 with 133 yards. He was sacked seven times. Clearly the worst game of his short career.
After the buzzer sounded, a swarm of Kent State players and fans huddled around the Wagon Wheel. What a vomit-inducing sight.
You're going to hear a lot of people calling for Matt Rodgers to start. Don't join that crowd. Ianello and the staff did not have a tough choice in August. Nicely was far better than Rodgers in camp. It would be short-sighted to make that change and ruin a sophomore's confidence in a season where the team has almost no chance to play in a bowl.
Other stats of note: Akron rushed 35 times for 62 yards, compared to Kent's 75 on 32 carries. Keith was 17-for-34 for 186 yards, with a touchdown and no picks. Sam Kirkland caught five passes for 109 yards. LaFrance led Akron with six catches for 75 yards. Brian Wagner had 11 tackles. Mixon had nine. Kent State committed 13 penalties for 125 yards (Akron, 10 for 65).
I applaud Akron's coaches for their work today, aside from wasting a touchdown opportunity at the end of the first half. Kent State was unprepared for the fake field goal and Wildcat offense.
Next week, Akron plays at Temple. That will be a very difficult game, especially since Bernard Pierce will likely be healthy.
Rob Ianello quotes:
"I thought they just made a few more plays than we did. It's a great rivalry. I'm looking forward to us improving in the next six games."
"They had constant pressure. We knew they were quick. We went to a different protection where we slid it. We kept guys in, and they allowed us to have only three receivers running routes. We felt like we had to throw it because they put so many people in the box."
"I think it's a tough game for our whole team. We poured a lot into it this week. They understand how important it is to our university, our alumni and our fans."
"I would have to check the record books to see if there was ever a game with that many penalties."
"They presented us with a good look to run that (the Wildcat)."
"I'm proud of the way Jalil is playing. He's doing a nice job for us. I thought Jeremy did a nice job in the passing game for us also. When you coach offensive football, you have to get your playmakers the ball."
"We ended up running the ball not like I hoped to. Some of the sacks take away what we rushed for. It was a team loss."
Regarding not going for the touchdown before the half: "When you get in your two-minute offense before the half, you try to get a field goal for sure. When you get close enough to be greedy, you go for the touchdown. I wanted to at least get ourselves in position to get a field goal."
Final Score - Akron 17, Kent State 28