The University of Akron football team took plenty from Neyland Stadium when it left Tennessee late Saturday night.
After going toe-to-toe and punching and counterpunching with Tennessee, the Zips brought home a bit of a swagger and a lot of confidence.
Coach Terry Bowden said that the Volunteers aren’t just a BCS team. He said they’re an elite BCS team — despite the program’s struggles in recent years. If the Zips were going to lose, there weren’t too many better ways to do it — going down swinging.
Despite giving up significant chunks of yardage, the defense came up with two crucial fourth-down stops against the Vols. Cornerback Avis Commack returned an interception for a touchdown against Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray on the game’s opening drive.
Offensively, Bowden watched as Zips running back Quentin Hines had a 75-yard run, an explosive play he’d been looking for all season. And on special teams, kicker Robert Stein connected on all four of his field-goal attempts.
“All you could see were things that were positive,” Bowden said after Monday’s practice. “At the end, it wasn’t so much that things changed; we couldn’t keep on making the plays and they did.
“We needed to make a few more plays. That was the difference in the talent on the field.”
Occasionally, football can be a game of “want to,” he said.
But that doesn’t change the outcome.
“It still goes down as a loss,” quarterback Dalton Williams said. “We’re still 1-3. We did a lot of good things, but we saw some mistakes that we’re just going to have to go back and correct this week and have a really good week of practice.”
The positives coming from the Tennessee game could give the Zips some momentum when the conference schedule begins this weekend against Miami.
“As long as your kids know they’re playing their hearts out and they played good enough and better than the week before and the guys are seeing positive results, it’s a learning and positive experience,” Bowden said.
Williams is cautious when asked whether the performance against Tennessee signals to the MAC that the Zips might no longer be the doormat from the prior two seasons.
“We’re just going out and playing the best that we can and what they do with that, that’s up to them,” he said of the upcoming schedule. “We know where we are. We know where we need to be and we have lot more work to do to get where we want to be.”
No changes coming
Unless they’re injury related, Bowden said there won’t be any changes to the lineup when the Zips play the RedHawks (2-2, 1-0) at InfoCision Stadium.
There will be a shift in receivers because Zach D’Orazio broke his left leg in Saturday’s game. He underwent successful surgery Monday.
With Justin March out for up to two weeks because of an ankle injury, Troy Gilmer and Nick Rossi are expected to get the lion’s share of his work. March’s injury is the third to a member of the linebacking corps this season, hitting the team in an area not rich in depth.
Left tackle Jarrod Pughsley played just a dozen snaps against the Volunteers because of a lingering ankle injury suffered before the opening game. Bowden said that because the training staff was cautious with it, he will be nearly 100 percent healthy as the MAC season begins.
A little incentive
Coach Woody Hayes pioneered it while at Ohio State and other teams throughout the years adopted it. Now it’s Akron’s turn.
The coaching staff began awarding “Z” stickers to players for their helmets. As of now, players receive four of them for a win only. Bowden said it’s easier that way because there isn’t a fair system to award them to linemen on either side of the ball.
Kicker Robert Stein received the East Division’s Special Teams Player of the Week award for his 4-for-4 effort on field goals against the Vols. He also connected on two extra points.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.