Mitigating circumstances along with subpar play resulted in a 42-3 loss at Illinois last Saturday in the first game for the University of Akron football program under coach Tom Arth.
More of the emphasis should be placed on the latter, however.
The Zips' offense struggled, gaining just 192 total yards and the offensive line surrendered six sacks. Defensively, UA surrendered 401 yards and allowed the Illini to score on six of their seven trips to the red zone.
“We didn’t play as well as we are capable of playing, and that’s the most disappointing thing to me we have to come back [from],” Arth said during a Tuesday news conference.
Arth said he didn’t think attitude or nerves were an issue.
“I do think Year 1, Game 1, new offense, new defense, it's not easy — even for me,” he said.
And it likely wasn’t easy for quarterback Kato Nelson, who endured a 12-of-28, 128-yard effort that included an interception.
“There were certainly times when he wasn't comfortable. He was a little bit antsy. He took some hits early on,” Arth said. “At times we protected very well — we had great protection and in those moments he was very accurate and we were able to make plays down the field. And there were other moments where we didn't perform quite as well.”
This is where mitigating circumstances come into play. UA played without three key members of the team — starters Davon’te Jest at nose tackle, cornerback Alvin Davis and left tackle Trevor Brown — who didn’t make the trip for undisclosed reasons.
Arth said Brown’s absence had little impact on the line’s play and chemistry in his absence. Nelson agreed to a degree.
“Obviously it took its toll on us,” he said, “but I think Brandon Council did a great job of stepping in at that left tackle and blocking.”
However, the Zips rotated through at least three other players to move Council from his left guard spot, and it seems unlikely the moves didn’t affect chemistry on the line.
But those players should return when the Zips face the University of Alabama-Birmingham in their home opener at noon Saturday in InfoCision Stadium.
Despite the loss to the Illini, Arth can point to one bright side: 15 freshmen (11 true, four redshirt) played, and six of those played in the secondary.
“I don't know if you're looking to play 15 freshmen but, you know, every circumstance and every situation is different,” he said.
Davis’ absence certainly led to some playing time for others, but the Zips came into the season thin at defensive back.
Arth, however, said he likes a rule the NCAA recently instituted that permits freshmen to play up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. It keeps the players engaged in the university and on the football field, he said.
“It will further the competition in the program at that position and it lets everybody know when you have a moment when you're called upon, you have to be ready,” he said. “You have to take advantage of it, capitalize on it, and I think a lot of those young guys did that this past weekend.”
Former UA linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III survived the final cut to make the Pittsburgh Steelers' 53-man roster, and defensive back Kyron Brown made it to the New York Jets' practice squad.
Arth said the Zips made it through the Illinois game with bumps and bruises, but no serious injuries.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.