There is a sense of optimism before every football season. But for the 2009 Akron Zips there is the added anticipation of opening their new stadium. With nine returning starters on offense, including quarterback Chris Jacquemain, the Zips hope a potentially powerful offense can lead the way to a successful inaugural year at InfoCision Stadium.
The Zips will be focused on improving several defensive stats
From 1940 to 2008, Akron football teams called the Rubber Bowl their home. This season they move back to campus and into their new facility - InfoCision Stadium. It is the first on-campus stadium built in the MAC since Miamis Yager Stadiums in 1983.
On the new facility, Zips head coach J.D. Brookhart said I keep getting amazed by the place. It (the stadium) changes everything. It changes recruiting.It changes game day. It changes community pride. There are so many things this stadium does not only for the players, but the entire community,
But with the opening of a new stadium, there are also expectations. Since its magical season of 2005, when the Zips won the MAC East Division title and then defeated Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game, Akron has gone 14-22 over the last three campaigns. Some observers believe the slide puts head coach J.D. Brookhart on the perverbial hot seat in the Rubber City.
Here is a look at the Akron Blue and Gold as they embark on the 2009 season.
OFFENSE: In the off-season, Brookhart hired two new coaches to help with the offense. Former Miami head coach Shane Montgomery, who previously served as an offensive coordinator, will guide the Zips offense this season. One time University of Pittsburgh and Stanford head man Walt Harris comes on board to coach quarterbacks and coordinate the passing game.
One asset that both Montgomery and Harris will benefit from is an experienced quarterback in senior Chris Jacquemain. The Mentor, Ohio native was the starting signal caller for the entire 2008 season, completing 57.9 percent of his passes (231-for-399) for 2,748 yards with 20 touchdowns. He has registered at least one scoring toss in 12 of his last 13 games, dating back to the end of the 2007 season.
Coming into 2009, Jacquemain ranks among the top six in Akron career records for passing yards (4,371-fourth), passing touchdowns (31-fourth), pass completions (385-fourth), pass attempts (674), and total offense (4,371). While he moves up the ladder in many categories, Jacquemain will also attempt to bring down his 2008 interception total. He threw 14 picks, including three games where he threw at least three (Ball State, Kent State, and Temple). Starting with more experienced receivers this time around may help.
Last year was tough for him. He had four new receivers. They made a lot of mistakes and dropped a lot of footballs Brookhart said. He has a different confidence level with them now and also another year in the system
The receiving corps is led by split end Deryn Bowser, who had a team-best 64 receptions for 785 yards and four touchdowns in 2008. The senior from Long Beach, California had eight catches for 117 yards in the loss to Ball State, 10 catches against eventual Big East Conference champion Cincinnati, and five receptions for 77 yards and the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter in the Zips double-overtime win at Kent State. Bowser was named to the All-MAC third team at the receiver position.
In all, Akron returns four of the top five receivers from a season ago. Joining Bowser are Andre Jones (47 rec., 678 yds., 7TD.), Jeremy Bruce (29 rec., 345yds.,TD), and Dashan Miller (16 rec.,187yds., 2TD)..
They ought to be much improved this season. There were a lot of mistakes made mainly because they were thinking. This year they shouldnt have to think, Brookhart said.
As for the running game, the Zips lost Dennis Kennedy (1,321 yards rushing, 17 TDs, 314 receiving yards on 31 catches). Also gone is Andrew Johnson, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry and had flashes of brilliance during the 2008 season. This position figured to be an open competition when fall camp began.
Health is an issue right now, Brookhart said. I think Alex (Allen) is close to coming back from that hip injury. We also have a transfer from Louisville (Dale Martin) who sat out last year with a ruptured achilles in the spring. And we also have some guys who are untested.
Allen is the top returning rusher with 152 yard,s but he played just three games after injuring his hip in the Ball State game. He had a career-best 103 yards and two touchdowns in the Zips win at Syracuse last September.
Another possible impact player is DeVoe Torrance. The redshirt freshman from Canton originally signed with Ohio State but then decided to stay close to home. Torrance played for fabled Massillon High and was one of the top players in all of high school football in 2007.
The offensive line loses first team all-MAC tackle Chris Kemme, but it will be anchored by two seniors - center Elliott Bates and guard Zach Anderson. Also returning to their starting positions are juniors Mike Ward and Corey Woods.
DEFENSE: Akron was near the league bottom in several defensive categories during a 5-7 (3-5 MAC) season. Five returning starters will lead the attempt to improve in key areas, such as rush defense and sacks. The bottom line is to stop scoring. Akron was next-to-last in that category last year, allowing 36.1 ppg. in MAC competition.
Among the five returnees on defense is junior Almando Sewell. The native of Trenton, New Jersey had 62 total tackles, (37 solos) including 13 stops in the four-overtime heartbreaking the loss to Buffalo. The All-MAC third team selection was the one constant along a battered defensive front in 2008. Almando is the anchor to the defensive line. We were on our fifth nose guard in game four last year, Brookhart recalled.
Another player on the line to watch in 2009 is Shawn Lemon. The junior had 34 tackles (18 solos), five tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles. He played in all 12 games and started six contests.
Junior Mike Thomas is the sole returning starter at linebacker. He had 85 tackles a season ago and was named the Zips most improved defensive player. In addition, he had two forced fumbles, and recovered two.
Thomas came to the Zips as a defensive back after redshirting one season at the University of Massachusetts. He moved into a linebacker spot and had an impact during his first season at the position. If he continues his progress in 2009, he could be in line for some post-season honors.
Asked about the linebacking situation, Brookhart said, We lost two good ones (Kevin Grant and Doug Williams). I like this group a lot. There are some young inexperienced guys, but they are very athletic.
The secondary looks to be one the Zips strengths as they go into the 2009 season with three starters. Cornerback Miguel Graham leads the way. He had 70 tackles, three interceptions and three recovered fumbles. He was third in passes defended (MAC) with 11.
Junior safety Jalil Carter recorded 48 tackles (42 of which came in the final seven games of the season). Carter also had four pass breakups, a forced fumble, an interception, and a blocked punt. Senior free safety Wayne Cobram, meanwhile, had a career- best 63 tackles including three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Zips will have both of their kicking specialists back in 2009. Junior placekicker Igor Iveljic, who was just 18-of-28 on field goals, had the winning kick in the double overtime win at Kent State. He comes into the season fourth on the Zips all-time scoring list among kickers with 162 points.
Senior punter John Stec averaged 37.1 yards per punt last season. Of his 48 kicks (the fewest of his three-year career with the Zips), 12 went inside the opponents 20-yard line and 20 were fair caught
OTHER: The Zips open the season September 5 at defending Big Ten champion Penn State. Akrons previous two visits to Happy Valley resulted in losses of 70-24 and 34-16.
- The big opening of InfoCision Stadium is set for September 12 against FCS opponent Morgan State out of the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference). The game will be Akrons first home game on campus since September 21,1940 against Detroit. The opener will be followed by another big game when Indiana comes to town. It is the first time Akron has hosted a Big Ten football team since 1891, their first season of intercollegiate football (when they lost to Ohio State 4-0).
- MAC play opens for the Zips September 26 at Central Michigan . The Chippewas are favorites to win the Western Division. Akron has lost seven of its last eight games against CMU and its nine visits to Mount Pleasant.
- The first MAC home game comes October 10th against Ohio (the first on-campus homecoming since 1939) before a trip up Interstate 90 to Buffalo with the defending MAC Conference champion Bulls.
As the Zips prepare for the 2009 season, one thing Brookhart will emphasize to his squad is finishing the game.
We have to finish better he remarked at MAC Media Day in Detroit. We had four games last year that could have gone any which way... We had Cincinnati beat at home, Bowling Green, Ohio, BuffaloWe just have to finish better.