The numbers don’t lie about the stature and status of the University of Akron football team.
The Zips (0-2), who meet the University of Cincinnati Bearcats (1-1) on the road Saturday afternoon, have nowhere to go except up on the field and on the scoreboard.
That is also the situation for the Zips statistically after opening the season with losses to Ohio State (42-0) on Sept. 3 and Temple (41-3) last Saturday.
Of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the Zips are at the bottom or near the bottom in an inordinately high number of the NCAA statistical categories.
Offensively, UA is last in number of sacks allowed (6.5 per game), and No. 118 in total yardage (179.5 per game). Defensively, the Zips are last in tackles for losses (1.5 per game), tied for last in sacks (none) and interceptions (none), and 108th in total yardage allowed (466.5 per game).
The lopsided losses and resultant numbers have the Zips spending a large amount of time this week on basics.
“The main focus in practice this week is Akron getting better,” UA coach Rob Ianello said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “Certainly, we have to do some things offensively, defensively and on special teams to prepare for Cincinnati schematically.
“But, before we do that, we have to fix some of the things we need to do better in … tackling and being in the right gaps on defense, pass protecting on offense and special teams coverage. We will go to work on those.”
The Zips also rank low in other statistical categories. On offense, UA is 118th in scoring (1.5 points per game) and first downs (nine per game) and 116th in rushing (38.5 yards per game). On defense, UA is 113th in rushing yards allowed (264.5 per game) and 112th in points allowed (41.5 per game).
Admittedly, the Zips’ early schedule might skew the numbers because other teams had far easier opponents to begin the season.
But the numbers do reflect glaring weaknesses for the Zips in two of the most basic parts of the sport.
“It clearly starts with blocking and tackling,” Ianello said. “As elementary as that sounds, football still comes down to blocking and tackling.”
The Zips suffered in those areas in the opener against the Buckeyes and in the home and Mid-American Conference opener against the Owls on Saturday night.
Against the Owls, the Zips did manage 269 yards of total offense, which was a vast improvement over the 90 yards the previous week. Still, the only points came on a 48-yard field goal by T.J. Marchese in the second quarter.
Defensively, UA allowed Temple to rush for 305 yards, including 150 and three touchdowns by junior tailback Bernard Pierce, who did not carry the ball in the second half.
UA also was penalized eight times for 60 yards, allowed eight sacks and dropped five passes.
“We had too many unforced errors, self-inflicted wounds … penalties and fundamental breakdowns in certain areas,” Ianello said.
The game also featured a lightning delay of one hour, 19 minutes at the 6:04 mark of the first quarter with the score 0-0.
The players and coaches went to their respective locker rooms, and the fans huddled out of harm’s way in the mezzanine areas.
Ianello and his staff tried to use their time wisely and keep lines of communication open with the players.
“First, we had to explain to them exactly what was going on,” Ianello said. “We let the guys take their pads off. Then, we met as coaches to review the eight minutes prior and then we spent time with the players on what we had seen. We tried to keep them focused and relaxed.”
The resumption of play resulted in a Temple juggernaut taking charge. The Owls went 76 yards in six plays to score immediately after play was resumed. In the second quarter, Pierce scored three touchdowns to give Temple a 28-3 halftime lead.
“They got the momentum and we couldn’t get it back,” Ianello said about the lightning delay. “One of the things we have to do is handle adversity better.”
On Saturday, the Zips will be playing a Cincinnati team that defeated Austin Peay 72-10 in its home opener on Sept. 1 and then lost at Tennessee 45-23 Saturday.
The Zips then have four of their next five games at home, starting Sept. 24 against Virginia Military Institute.
Tom Gaffney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com.