Akron lost 38-37 to Gardner-Webb today in overtime.
There are two ways to think about today's game:
1) How disappointing that Akron is turning InfoCision Stadium into a house of losers. Rather than building a winning tradition and having the "protect this house" attitude, the Zips permit opponents to walk in without wiping their feet, run up a big pay-per-view bill, make crude comments about their wife, and raid the liquor closet on the way out. Today was a day where Akron was SET UP TO WIN. Basically, Tom Wistrcill put the Brooklyn Brawler in front of Rob Ianello and marked out the spots. The Zips lack a killer attitude or a winner's mentality. OK. So maybe they don't have the talent to run up the score, but they also don't have the stones to step on an opponent's throat when it's time for the kill. Give me one good reason to come back to InfoCision Stadium this year. I'm waiting...
2) Let's keep our cool about this one. In the year that the men's basketball won the MAC, Keith Dambrot's beat an NAIA team, Walsh, only by two, and only because a last-second 3-pointer rimmed out. In the year that the football team won the MAC, J.D. Brookhart's squad was shutout at home by a bad Army team -- 20-0. If Igor Iveljic makes the kick at the buzzer, we aren't hearing these extreme statements. Is it rational to be satisfied about a team's future if a kick goes in, but to be all "let's fire everyone from Ianello to Luis Proenza" if it misses? No. If the Zips win a few MAC games before November, then we could legitimately play in the MAC Championship. No one will claim Ianello has the most talent in the conference, but the team has enough players to make a run.
Let's look at some key stats:
1) Akron gave up 290 passing yards (not good) and 101 rushing yards (pretty good). 2) The Zips ran for 224 yards (fantastic) and passed for 165 (crummy). 3) Gardner-Webb scored a touchdown every time it reached the redzone. Akron scored three touchdowns and no field goals in five trips inside the 20-yard line. 4) James Perry caught 10 passes for 125 yards for G-W. 5) Akron safety Doug Richardson had 10 tackles (two for loss) and he forced a fumble. 6) Attendance was 10,046.
No one facet of the game lost it for Akron. It was an unholy collaboration to blame.
The obvious problem on the offensive side was the passing attack. Patrick Nicely played a decent game. He showed more poise in the pocket. His accuracy wasn't bad. The problem is that only one receiver seems to be able to get open (Jeremy LaFrance). That should be the focus for the next couple weeks: Run better routes!
A lot of people will blame Iveljic for this loss, but look at the defense. The Bulldogs accumulated 391 yards today. A team that should have inferior athletes and less talent marched over the Zips for the length of a PGA Tour Par 4. The secondary has given up way too many big passing gains. Ianello mentioned two safeties were hurt today. It's time to put Jalil Carter, a Third-Team All-MAC safety, back at that position -- especially since he has not done anything at receiver.
Ianello has the right attitude after this game. The tone of his voice and his word choice in the postgame interview were that of someone who expected this to happen. Of course, he didn't. But he did expect some setbacks. A big part of his success will rely upon his players believing in his plan. If the plan has crumbled by Week 2, this will be an ugly year and a short career at Akron for Ianello. Rather, he's treating this the right way.
Most fans won't see today like I saw it. I was disappointed, but not heartbroken. I would be heartbroken, however, if I saw the Zips not playing hard.
A lot of coachspeak is B.S. I will be the first to say that. But coaches are 100 percent truthful when they talk about the importance of the way a team plays and the attitude it emits. If those intangibles are awry, then success should not be celebrated any more than a loss like today's.
This season can go any which-way, so I was probably too quick to predict a winning season last week. But the foundation is there for it.
Regardless, the program has a lot of ground to repair fan-wise. Attendance was 10,046, which is 5,000 lower than the average needed to satisfy the NCAA's demands. A team that loses to a Division I-AA team at home is a hard sell to casual football fans or lukewarm alumni. But a win over Kentucky or Indiana will forgive many sins.
Akron beat Bowling Green 2-0 in the MAC opener.
Assistant coach Lamont Paris is heading to Wisconsin to be a Badgers assistant.
Lamont is a good guy. I have spent time with him several times socially. He doesn't have the basketball pedigree of other top assistants, but he will succeed because he is very good at establishing relationships.
Best of luck to him.