2018 RECORD: 4-8 (2-6 in MAC play)
HEAD COACH: Tom Arth (First year)
2019 PRESEASON POLL: Fifth in the Eastern Division
When Akron’s 2018 opening game was cancelled due to thunderstorms at Nebraska, it later seemed something of an omen for struggles to come.
UA won at Northwestern for its first ever win over a Big Ten and added a victory over rival Kent State in overtime. There was a win over Central Michigan but the Zips then dropped their last five games, finishing with a record of 4-8 (2-6 in the MAC).
The late-season slide . . .
Arth’s most recent work was at Chattanooga, where he was 9-13 with the Mocs in 2017 and 6-5 in 2018. On top of answering other questions, the Zips will spend 2019 demonstrating how well they adjust to systems under a new coaching staff.
Here more on the Akron Blue and Gold as they open their 11th season at Infocision Stadium . . .
➤➤ In 2018 the Zips averaged 294.4 yards and 18.9 points per game.
➤➤ Under Arth, and new offensive coordinator Tommy Zagorski, UA will have some different looks in 2019. Arth has said he will use a plethora of offensive formations and not just the spread formation. He added you still see one-back and two-back set, as well.
➤➤ Junior quarterback Kato Nelson will be at the controls. The Florida native is embarking on his third season as the starting quarterback. He completed 52 percent of his passes (178-of-342) for 2,329 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2018. He added 303 yards and a score on the ground and is the ZIps top returning rusher. The main thing for Nelson and the Zips offense is that he must stay healthy. He was injured late in the third quarter in the home loss to Northern Illinois and missed two games, during which time the offense was ineffective.
➤➤ ARTH ON NELSON: “Kato is a very talented layer … Watching the film, he stands out. … He has incredible potential.”
➤➤ One thing UA must work on is generating a productive run game. Fifth year senior Deltron Sands and sophomore Keyondre White showed flashes of their capabilities a season ago. For Sands, he is looking for a healthy year after battling a previous injury. Look for sophomore Brandon Lee and redshirt freshman Devanie Floyd to see some time in the early going.
➤➤ The receivers are led by Junior Andre Williams, who led the team with 46 catches in 2018 for 649 yards and six touchdowns and is definitely a big play threat. The Zips also have depth at the position in junior Jonah Morris (26 receptions for 381 yards and a touchdown), junior Nate Stewart (22 catches for 280 yards and a score) and sophomore Jeremiah Knight (nine catches for 12 yards). Add to that senior Brandon Junk and sophomore Maverick Wolfley at the tight end position
➤➤ The offensive line allowed 34 sacks last season and is led by senior Trevor Brown, with Bryce Petersen, sophomores Hunter Corne and Shawn Muldowney also starting.
➤➤ The Zips defense allowed 388.1 yards and 27.2 points per game. Among the spots to be filled is at linebacker, where Ulyssees Gilbert III (Second Team) and Brian Bell (Third Team) are gone after earning All-MAC honors.
➤➤ New defensive coordinator Matt Freeney will use a 4-3 base defense. However, Arth noted UA could also employ other schemes at times..
➤➤ The defensive front line is led by junior Dylan Meeks and senior Josh Ward, who had four sacks and 33 total stops
➤➤ Senior linebacker John Lako paced UA in total tackles last season with 126 (73 solo) with a fumble recovery and three pass breakups on the way to Third Team All-MAC honors.
➤➤Seniors Alvin Davis and senior Shawn Feathertone anchor the secondary. Davis finished fourth on the team in tackles with 75 (43 solo) with four interceptions, including a pair of touchdowns in the win over Northwestern. Featherstone is coming back from a season-ending injury
➤➤ UA will use a “hybrid” kicker in 2019 as junior Jetty Fritschen will be the man on both punts and place kicking duties . Last season, Fritschen was used exclusively on the kickoff and averaged almost 62 yards with 29 touchbacks. The return team will be led by Knight. He came into his own late last season, returning a punt for a touchdown at Eastern Michigan. For the season Knight averaged 15.3 yards on kickoff returns and 12.9 yards on punt returns
Scoring Offense: 18.9 ppg (11th MAC)
Scoring Defense : 27.2 ppg (6th MAC)
Total Offense: 294.4 ypg (11th MAC)
Total Defense: 388.1 ypg (7th MAC)
Turnover Margin: Minus 5 (tied for 10th MAC)
➤➤Tom Arth is in his first season as head coach at UA and is 49-21 overall (four seasons at Division III John Carroll and two seasons and FCS Chattanooga ).
➤➤ “To coach a Division I college football program that is 30 minutes from where I grew up is so incredible. I think it’s a rare opportunity,” -- Arth, who played his high school football at Cleveland St. Ignatius and was later a four-year starting quarterback at nearby John Carroll University.
➤➤ Although UA went 35-52 under Bowden, the Zips were MAC East Division champs in 2017 and reached bowl games in two of the previous three years.
➤➤ Akron opens the season at Illinois and hosts UAB the following week. After an early MAC tilt at Central Michigan, the Zips finish their non conference schedule at home against Troy and away at UMass. “I think we have a great non-conference” schedule,” -- Tom Arth
➤➤ The Wagon Wheel tilt against Kent State is Oct. 12 at Infocision Stadium.
➤➤ In addition to Central Michigan, UA also faces MAC West foes Northern Illinois (away) and Eastern Michigan (home).
This will be a building season of sorts for Arth and the Akron Blue and Gold. Keeping Nelson on the field will be important, as he stirs the offensive pot. Certainly, the rushing game has room to grow as it provided just five touchdowns last year. Nelson was the second leading rusher as he carried 131 times for 303 yards.
Personnel losses on defense mean some players will need to step into some very productive spots last year.
Getting back to or exceeding .500 will require some hard work under a new coaching staff.