Has Akron found a dominant running back?
Certainly, that must have been the question as fans left Stile Field House for Akron's Spring Game on Saturday.
Freshman Jawon Chisholm sliced, dashed and plowed his way through the Zips' defense for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. The stats don't show that another long run was called back because of a penalty.
"He's a very talented back," coach Rob Ianello said. "I think Jawon's got tremendous upside. He showed today he can make a big play. He did a very nice job. We are pleased with that. All three tailbacks ran very well today."
Akron only brought three running backs to spring camp with only a combined five games and one season of collegiate experience. But that trio of Broderick Alexander, Marvin Staten and Chisholm have each looked good this camp.
Chisholm was the Offensive MVP of the Spring Game. Nico Caponi took the defensive honors (5 tackles, 2 sacks).
The offense "won" the Spring Game based on the convoluted scoring by a 82-36 count, but fans might remember today as the first time they saw Jawon Chisholm run the ball.
Notes on today's game and spring practice as well:
The game was originally scheduled to be played at InfoCision Stadium. It was a gameday decision to move the game indoors. "I just felt for as much positive things have come out of spring practice, we should have a positive environment for our players. I think our players enjoyed it," Ianello said. Fans weren't completely immune from the weather, though. There were some leaks coming from the field house roof. The band was in midseason form, albeit perhaps too loud for an indoor performance.
The offense played a clean game, committing no turnovers. There were a total of 550 offensive yards in 69 plays. The Zips had 13 offensive drives, and Patrick Nicely and Clayton Moore piloted five each. Zach D'Orazio ran the offense for the other three series. "I thought all three quarterbacks were very efficient," Ianello said. "We are heading in the right direction. No interceptions. Took care of the ball. Managed the team. Percentages are good. I thought they were very efficient."
You didn't see the defense at full strength. Four potential starters sat out with injuries: defensive back Anthony Holmes, lineman Oren Wilson, and linebackers Matt Little and Troy Gilmer. Ianello also limited his blitzes and kept it to the base package, in part, because it's an open practice where opposing coaches could watch. "I did handcuff the defense," Ianello said. "I think the spring games are about running your base offense and base defense, because if you can't run your base offense and base defense, you're in trouble anyway." Despite those limitations, Ianello told his players to focus on hitting hard in the Spring Game. "I want people in the stands to know they were at a football game today," the coach said.
Ianello has said he's looking forward to "reinforcements" coming in August. "We have 10 defensive players coming. Those 10 defensive players are going to have to help us on defense," he said. Last year, there were eight true freshmen starting at various times. Ianello said that depth has improved since 2010 such that he's like to see about that many freshmen playing in the two-deep.
Several players emerged as key members of the program in the past few weeks. The two freshmen running backs perhaps top the list. Also included are defensive backs Seth Cunningham and L.T. Smith, receiver Marquelo Suel, and linebackers ShelDon Miller and Jamar Williams. "We're certainly a much-improved football team from where we were a year ago and from the Buffalo game," Ianello said.
There are now 109 days until fall camp opens, and the coaching staff is hoping that the team's leaders encourages players to spend significant time in the weight room.