The struggles of a mostly youthful secondary and poor field position caused by early suspect punting proved costly for the University of Akron football team in a 31-20 loss to UAB at InfoCision Stadium Saturday in the Zips' home opener.

Blazers quarterback Tyler Johnston III took advantage of the young Zips (0-2), who aided Johnston and his receivers with penalties and open looks. Johnston finished 15-of-24 passing for 319 yards and four touchdowns of 25 yards or more — the longest going for 76 yards on the second possession of the second half. Wide receiver Austin Watkins had three catches for 95 yards and two scores.

UA’s offense faced a grimmer fate until later in the game.

The Zips marched 75 yards on 10 plays on their game-opening drive, which was capped by running back Deltron Sands' 1-yard TD run. The kick by Jerry Fitschen failed, giving UA a 6-0 lead — the last one the Zips would have as UAB (2-0) followed with 31 unanswered points.

The Zips did produce moments in the first half that provided reason to be optimistic. Receiver Dustin Burkhart, who finished the game with eight receptions for 217 yards, had gains of 40 and 30 yards in the first half en route to the first 100-yard game of his career.

UA quarterback Kato Nelson connected with wide receiver Nate Stewart on a 6-yard touchdown pass at 11:04 of the fourth quarter to cap an 8-play, 59-yard drive and cut the Blazers' lead to 31-13.

The Nelson-Burkhart combination then breathed new life into the Zips, albeit briefly.

On a first-and-15 with less than five minutes to play, Burkhart streaked down the field surrounded by two Blazers defenders, one of whom got his hand on the ball, tipping it in the air. But Burkhart never lost his concentration on the ball, grabbed it and was pushed out of bounds at the UAB 7-yard line.

Nelson, who finished 25-of-44 passing for 359 yards and two TDs without an interception, then found wide receiver Timothy Scippio on the next play for the score, cutting the UAB lead to 31-20 with 4:39 to play.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.