It's been 28 games since the Akron Zips have beaten an FBS foe. Sure they've came close—Michigan anyone?—but when the clock hits zero, they haven't been the victor against an FBS opponent in almost three years.
That could all end Saturday when the Zips (1-6, 0-3 MAC) head to Oxford, Ohio to take on the Miami RedHawks (0-6, 0-2 MAC). Akron enters Yager Stadium as a 7-point favorite, and has a legitimate shot at ending its streak, finally.
Miami's struggles this season are well known. Statistically they're near the bottom in almost every category. The RedHawks even lost to UMass last week, a feeling of awfulness that Akron is all too familiar with. But for as awful as Miami has been, it did show signs of immediate improvement this past Saturday. The offense put out its highest yardage total of the season, a product of switching away from the read-option under interim head coach Mike Bath. Austin Boucher still played terrible, but if not for two late late interceptions, he could have actually steered the 'Hawks to their first win of the season.
But Saturday Miami will need a lot of things to go its way in order to come out with a win. Akron is much better than its record shows. In games against ranked opponents this season the 'Zips have lost by a combined total of 11 points. Certainly they've still appeared like the Akron of old at times, such as in their brutal losses to UCF and Ohio, but overall they've looked much better.
While much of that credit goes to sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl, it's mainly Akron's defense that has been the secret weapon. It's allowing nearly 34 points and north of 400 yards a game, but it's full of surprise performers. Players such as defensive linemen Nico Caponi, Nordly Capi and Albert Presley have provided the Zips with a pass rush this year, while defensive back Malachi Freeman and linebacker Justin March have also been quiet forces in their own right.
Last week, in a 7-point loss to No. 23 NIU, the Zips held one of the nations best offenses in check, allowing Pohl, and his talented corps of receivers to make it a game. In the end, Akron still wasn't good enough to beat the Huskies, but Saturday against Miami will be a different story.
The RedHawks certainly have improved over the season, but still have a long way to go. There's still no established replacement for Nick Harwell, no clear-cut leader in the running game, and they're still waiting on 2010's Boucher to reappear. It's unlikely all of those things are solved by Saturday, even with the strides the team made in the first week post-Don Treadwell.
The other issue looming for Miami is its defense. Though it sports some very talented individual players—see Dayonne Nunley—it's still allowing nearl 500 yards-per-game, along with just shy of 34 points-per-game. The unit has been picked apart week after week by quarterbacks from around the nation, and though its certainly faced some good talents such as Rakeem Cato, it's also faced the likes of A.J. Doyle. Pohl is a superior quarterback to Doyle, even if only because of the weapons that surround him.
Akron's offense has had little problems moving the ball outside of lopsided losses to UCF and Ohio. If you remove those two performances from the record, the Zips are putting up nearly 380 yards-per-game, and have averaged just shy of 25 points-per-game.
Akron won't blow out Miami, and in fact it could very well go down to the wire, but when it's all said and done, Akron's offensive weapons and defensive unit are superior to the 'Hawks'. This could be the proverbial passing of the baton for MAC bottom feeder, as it looks like Miami is in for a long climb out of its current hole, while the Roos are slowly but surely getting their heads above sea-level.
The game kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m., and can be streamed live on ESPN3.