First year head coach Rob Ianello probably got more than he bargained for in what was just an abysmal year for Akron football. The good news is that the team has experience and still remains young which bodes well for the future. However, Ianello was tight ends coach and a recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame so the question is whether he has the head coach mentality to get the most out of the talent he is bringing in. We might be closer to an answer for this question mid way through the upcoming season.
Akron finished 119 th nationally in total offense so all eyes are on quarterback Patrick Nicely who must improve upon a 49% completion rate and cut down on his 13 interceptions. That could be a mute point if JUCO transfer Clayton Moore has anything to say about it with his more rounded game with the only drawback being he doesn’t know the system. A sub par rushing attack loses it’s top to runners from a year ago which leaves the ground game in the hands of Jawon Chisholm and Broderick Alexander who is coming back from an Achilles injury. Chisholm is fast and elusive and can also be used as a receiver out of the backfield. Nearly 45% of the Zips production in the passing game is gone with the departures of Jeremy LaFrance and Jalil Carter so Antoine Russell could be the top returning option but only caught 13 balls even though one was a 56 yarder. Tight end Richard Hall managed 16 receptions but a mix of transfers and returning players will be fighting for time. The offensive line gets three players back and the team hopes that a year of seasoning will help improve upon inconsistent pass protection and trouble opening holes on the ground which should be a strength with good size throughout.
There is also plenty of room to improve on the defensive side of the ball for a unit that was in the bottom third of the country in both yards allowed and scoring defense. The line had trouble generating much of a pass rush although they did have some success against the run. However, the Zips need to replace two players including their best pass rusher so pressuring the quarterback might be taking a step back. The line backing unit is the strength of the defense but will miss Mike Thomas and his 113 tackles. Brian Wagner is the star with 130 tackles to lead the Zips in 2010. Matt Little and Tony Gilmar are more than adequate on the outside but need to be factors in the pass rush. The secondary allowed over 260 yards per game with half the blame falling on a poor pass rush. With three players back the unit has experience which should translate in to better overall numbers in 2011. Look for corners Manny Waller and Anthony Holmes to emerge as leaders but this group needs to get their hands on more balls with just six interceptions.
Freshman AJ Fox will handle placekicking duties and is accurate in close but needs to expand his range. He also averaged over 47 yards per punt in high school and with the 90 th ranked punt game in the country that job might also be his if Zack Campbell doesn’t improve on his 37.8 yard average. The return units were unaccomplished in 2010 so there will be an open competition for both jobs.
Akron was so low in the national standings on both offense and defense it only seems logical they will improve. However, with just one win a year ago it won’t be a monster task to improve in that area. That said there were too many problems last season that need to be addressed so an extra win or so won’t get the Zips far from the MAC East basement.