To me, the Zips looked like a team that will be able to win six or seven games. Explanation following...
They committed too many penalties, and the passing game was out of sync. Patrick Nicely is a better passer than 12-of-35. Also, it seemed like every time you looked up, a flag was coming. Akron was called five times for false starts or illegal procedure/formation.
Nicely did not have much time to throw. Part of it is his fault. He did not look comfortable taking the ball from under center without the cushion of the shotgun. He abandoned the pocket too quickly, which makes it nearly impossible for the line to block. But the line had its faults, too. Run blocking was shoddy, and blitz pickup was not reliable.
The defense was pretty good. I don't think you can have much fault with the way the front seven played. Mike Thomas and Brian Wagner combined for 26 tackles. Wagner hauled in an interception. Shawn Lemon made a sack and recovered a fumble.
Attendance was poor. This was the opening game of a new coach's tenure. It was against a BCS team that brought a lot of its own fans. And yet somehow, we only managed to get 15,969 people in the seats. You can say the weather could have been warmer, I guess. But it's going to get a lot colder than this in the coming months. Plus, Ohio State didn't play today, so you are more likely to get a mild Akron fan's time.
Here's my take on increasing attendance.
1) Win. It's so obvious I shouldn't even say it. But look at the soccer team. If you don't win, you won't get big crowds. I wholly guarantee it. The reason I address winning is for people to keep expectations realistic. Fans, players, coaches, administrators -- everyone: If the team's not winning, don't expect more than 20,000 fans. It's the truth.
2) Focus on the walk-up crowd. Hone in on ways to attract the couple who might not decide whether to go to the game until Saturday morning. How do you do that? I have no clue, but these people should be the No. 1 focus in brainstorming sessions -- not season ticket holders, not mid-week sales. How do you get Jim and Jane off their couches and into InfoCision Stadium?
3) Grassroots. Being in politics, I know the ONLY way to be successful is to build connections with people. You can't do that with billboards, newspaper ads, and flyers. What about having a "Zips Day" for each subdevelopment in Akron? Or little league teams? Or Chambers of Commerce? Rob Ianello can surely spare a few hours a week to make appearances. If he can convince a five-star player to give his future to Notre Dame, I'm certain he will be successful in making pitches to the community.
4) Don't make people wait in long lines for their tickets. It seemed like the ticket booths were understaffed. I missed the first half of the first quarter because of it. Joe Akron will consider the hassle of waiting to get into the stadium next time he's contemplating a Zips game.
Back to football... It was also Syracuse's first game. The Orange are a team that hopes to play in a bowl game, and its defense looked good enough to make that happen. It's not always that "Akron sucks" or "the line blew it" or "why don't we have any real playmakers?" Sometimes, your opponent deserves credit. I think Syracuse will have a winning record this year. I also think Akron can.
You have to understand that the Zips are employing new systems on offense and defense. It's not as easy as Madden football on XBox to change your schemes. It's a new batch of terminology, new procedures, and new second-level thinking for players and coaches to work through.
Is it possible that this year "Akron sucks"? Yes. But that's not the picture I got from watching this game. It was a team that really hustled, but was physically overmatched, had some bad luck, and was not quite comfortable.