Passing judgment on a football team two games into the season is counter-intuitive.
It’s just too soon to tell whether something is a trend or is just a shaky start. However, given the University of Akron football team’s recent past with the running game, it bears pointing out that it’s looking questionable.
Newness of an offensive system, including blocking schemes for the offensive line, certainly could play a role in what’s ailing the Zips' running game.
Last year, UA averaged 95.3 rushing yards per game. In their two games this year, they’ve averaged 49 per game to rank 128th in the country. That’s not a good start.
The most troubling aspect is that quarterback Kato Nelson leads rushing stats with 78 yards total and is only one attempt behind running back Deltron Sands for most on the team.
There’s little doubt that when a team has a quarterback such as Nelson, using every facet of his game is imperative. However, in the pro style offense the Zips are mostly running, his passing skills are just as important and keeping Nelson upright and healthy is key.
“I think that’s just attitude,” Nelson said when asked what needed to be done to get the running game going, “just dominating up front, dominating the line of scrimmage. I’m not sure what we’ll do, but we’re not just going to go away from the run game. We’re still going to try to establish the run game and get it going.”
UA coach Tom Arth said he understands the importance of running the ball.
“Game 1, I thought we did some good things in the running game,” he said, “and we really struggled to run it effectively this past weekend, so we’ll take a look at that and continue to emphasize it, continue to work on it and some of our passing game, as well, is an extension of that.”
For the Zips, one of those unusual scheduling quirks hit them this week when they open Mid-American Conference play against Central Michigan.
The Chippewas, who have a familiar name as their offensive coordinator — former Zips quarterback Charlie Frye — also have a new coach in Jim McElwain.
After Central Michigan, the Zips return to their nonconference schedule with Troy (Sept. 21) and Massachusetts (Sept. 28) remaining. Different games with different stakes — conference vs. nonconference.
“It’s not weird,” cornerback Alvin Davis said after Tuesday morning’s practice. “The difference is this being a conference game, you know you have to win this to get put on top of everyone else in the MAC and inside your conference east and west.”
Davis said the emphasis changes this week, but the preparation does not.
Arth agreed with respect to the way the team prepares.
Current UA wide receiver Julian Hicks will face his old team Saturday. Hicks, who transferred to UA after the end of last school year, led the Chippewas in receiving last season with 28 receptions for 313 yards for 11.2 yards per catch and four touchdowns.
Yes, Hicks has been hearing from former teammates this week.
“They just want to compete and have a good game,” he said. “You know, it’s still family ties over there.”
There’s nothing awkward about the situation for Hicks, who has been recovering from a shoulder injury.
“I’m just happy to be getting healthy,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to go back to Kelly/Shorts Stadium to play some old teammates and old coaches, so it should be a fun time.”
His only goal is coming out with a win.
It made its mark virally last week, as the “Turnover Pencil.”
Arth, however, said the actual name of the replica No. 2 pencil given to the Zips defensive player who creates a turnover is the “Takeaway Pencil.”
There’s a vast difference in the two names in his estimation. He said he and the defense prefer to view turnovers as earned, making them takeaways instead of the former.
“That implies that the offense is giving them to us,” he said. “We spend too much time practicing those situations and working [on] our tackling technique, our strip attempts, all those things we feel that it’s a takeaway. We are taking the football away.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.