A wild game like this can propel a team in the right direction (see Browns @ Bengals, 2007), or it can be another meaningless happening on the path to a lackluster season (see Zips @ Western Michigan, 2007).
With 17 days off, Akron has plenty of time to heal, study film and prepare for the stretch run. In the summer, I predicted that these last four games would truly determine the Zips' fate. When you have four winnable games to finish a MAC season, you have a shot at Detroit.
Anyhow, here are the grades...
Quarterback -- Without that fourth-quarter fumble, this would be the ideal
Chris Jacquemain game. He let the offense flow through the running back and played smart. But how many times does a player have to make costly errors before you hold him accountable, rather than overlook it in favor of his positive work? Once, that's OK. Twice, you start to worry. Three times, and it's a problem. I have been hard on "Jacq," and maybe it's because I still have a sour taste in my mouth from last season. Regardless, I truly think Akron has enough talent on the offense to make its quarterback look like a MAC MVP candidate. Eight games into the season, Jacquemain has been only average.
Running back --
Dennis Kennedy made his momma proud (see her comment after my gameday post). You can't ask for much more than 11.1 yards per carry. Fumbles are another thing I have overlooked. Kennedy never has coughed it up. NEVER. Not this season. Not any season. Even those games when the guy couldn't break through a wet piece of toilet paper, he held onto the ball. (I probably just jinxed him.)
Wide receiver --
Andre Jones played a great game. With
Deryn Bowser suffering from a knee injury and butterfingers, it came at an ideal time. The scary part is, these two guys will be back next season.
Jeremy Bruce also made a key catch on the final drive. I expected more out of him, but you can't complain too much when you strike gold with Bowser and Jones.
Offensive line -- This unit has improved almost every week since the Ohio State game last year. They are deep, too. Knock on wood, but the Zips could afford several injuries before they lost a step.
Elliott Bates needs to get his shotgun snaps under control. The coaches have known about this problem for a long time, so I'm sure Bates has been practicing the art of snapping it to Jacquemain's chest. Aside from the snaps, Bates must be grading pretty highly, because he's still the starter.
Defensive line -- I hate grading these guys every week. They play well, but it doesn't show up.
Eric Lively plugs holes.
Shawn Lemon and
Almondo Sewell are feisty, swarming defenders. But it's like watching Shaq play point guard. Make them into 4-3 ends or 3-4 outside linebackers, and you'll really see them shine. Today, however, Lively didn't tally a single tackle.
Mike Thomas recovered a fumble and made 2.5 tackles for loss. That's nice, but
Doug Williams went back into hiding. (With that beard, maybe he's hanging with bin Laden?) The defense gave up five touchdowns in six EMU trips to the redzone. That suggests to me that the linebackers weren't helping enough on coverage.
Bryan Williams has made some key plays this season, but shouldn't we be getting more consistent production out of a guy we moved from All-MAC running back to strong safety? Three tackles is not enough from your strong safety. Aside from
Brandon Anderson's interception, this was a poor effort against a mediocre offense.
Special teams -- The kick-protect unit almost cost the Zips the season. Luckily,
Andy Hildreth was alert enough to salvage this situation.
Igor Iveljic's missed field goal was also rough. It is easy to forget that Iveljic is only a sophomore. He has time to build consistency. I liked how
Jalil Carter was an up-man on the kick return team. In fact, the Zips need to stock their kick return unit with speedsters mixed in. That way, kickers will be more likely to give Williams the ball.
John Stec also had a great game. Twice he pinned the Eagles inside the 20-yard line. I have been quite pleased with the punting this season.
Coaching -- Dear
J.D. Brookhart: Jacquemain didn't lose the game for you, but he almost did. He actually did blow it last week. And he nearly cost Akron the Wagon Wheel against Kent State. If you truly have faith in
Matt Rodgers -- like you are telling anyone who will listen -- then give the freshman a series or two. I am not advocating a complete replacement at first. Just give him some game action. If he plays well, it will be better for the program to have a younger starting quarterback with a higher ceiling who is less accident prone. If Rodgers struggles, nothing is lost. Look at what Ohio State did with
Jim Tressel told the reigning First-Team All-Big Ten quarterback to have a seat. (If he didn't do that, there would be more people at the Zips games because no one would care about a 5-3 Buckeyes team.) Moving on... Despite the fourth-quarter collapses, I think Brookhart,
Joe Moorhead and
Jim Fleming have coached their best this season. The traditional problems for Akron football (inconsistent effort, tons of discipline-related penalties) have disappeared. You can whine about the 3-3-5 (and, obviously, I do), but Brookhart has surpassed anyone's expectations for this season. A bowl game is within reach.