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2017 Week 5 Preview: Akron Zips at Bowling Green Falcons

Struggling Ohio MAC schools meet at a crossroads. Who escapes?

Akron v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Last time Akron bested Bowling Green, a large majority of the teams' current rosters were in elementary school. The Falcons have shown dominance year in and year out versus the Zips, winning eight-straight dating back to the chaotic year of 2007.

In this time span, Akron has appeared in just one bowl game. Bowling Green? Six. The Falcons appeared in the conference championship every year from 2014-2016, but for the first time in over a decade, the Zips appear to have a slight advantage entering this one.

Bowling Green's 2017 has been a struggle. The Falcons were gifted with no easy out of conference schedule, forced to play Northwestern and Michigan State on the road. Their Group of Five non-conference matchup was a road match against respectable Conference USA foe Middle Tennessee, a 24-13 loss — the most quality performance the Falcons have delivered in the young season.

Bowling Green lost to its FCS competition in South Dakota in the team's sole home game of its non-conference slate. Meanwhile, Akron earned its one victory over an FCS program, besting Arkansas-Pine Bluff by a breathtaking score of 52-3.

The nadir of the Zips season occurred on kickoff weekend. Akron was pulverized by No. 4 Penn State in Happy Valley, 52-0 (fourth largest FBS-FBS shutout of 2017) in a game Terry Bowden and his squad would like to never revisit. The Zips hung with a much-improved Iowa State team at InfoCision Stadium for a half before being blown out 21-0 in the game's final two quarters. But perhaps Akron's most impressive performance was a 22-17 loss at the home of the Troy Trojans in Week 4.

Down 16-3, Akron charged back at the Trojans and earned a 17-16 lead late in the fourth quarter after Warren Ball reached the end zone. However, the Troy offense woke up and regained the lead with 1:06 to go on a Brandon Silvers touchdown pass. Although missing a golden upset opportunity, Akron showed that it could compete with a program that won 10 games a season ago — a great sign of progress after the Week 1 shutout.

Players to Watch

Jarret Doege, QB, Bowling Green

Welcome to the Jarret Doege era in Bowling Green, OH. The freshman quarterback from Lubbock looks to be Mike Jinks' current solution to the revolving door of quarterbacks at Bowling Green. Doege threw for 283 yards on a 60% completion mark. He threw one touchdown and contributed zero interceptions. Bowling Green's offense didn't exactly amaze viewers, but the team stayed close on the road against Middle Tennessee — a major sign of improvement from the first three weeks of action. Doege will likely stick at the quarterback position until his performance says otherwise.

Right now, he is succeeding in Bowling Green's experiment to test him at quarterback. Through 53 collegiate passes, Doege has yet to throw an interception, which has stuck as one of Bowling Green's major issues in the Jinks era.

Scott Miller, WR, Bowling Green

Scott Miller is back! Miller, a 968-yard and 10-touchdown receiver a season ago, only achieved 121 combined receiving yards in his first three outings. But against Middle Tennessee, Miller almost matched this output with a 112-yard performance against the Blue Raiders. He scored his second receiving touchdown of the year, re-establishing himself as the Falcons' primary receiving threat.

Warren Ball, RB, Akron

Ball, a former Ohio State tailback, recorded his second 100-yard rushing game of the season in the narrow loss to Troy. He scored a crucial fourth quarter touchdown of the season, adding another score to his hat trick of end zone appearances from the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game. Ball now has a career-high 325 rushing yards. He is finally healthy and provided an opportunity to contribute at the FBS level. Bowling Green's 119th-ranked rushing defense must keep all tabs on Ball throughout the game, because the senior running back has the potential to shred the Falcons defense just like Northwestern running back Justin Jackson did.

Ulysees Gilbert, OLB, Akron

Gilbert is the do-it-all man on the Zips defense. The outside linebacker leads the team with 27 tackles and returned a 30-yard interception for a touchdown against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Gilbert is bound to find his way into the Bowling Green backfield, attacking running backs and receivers on screen pattern with incredible straight-line speed. The Falcons' rushing attack is dismal, to say the least. Bowling Green ranks 123rd in the country and averages only 81.3 yards per game on the ground. If this trend continues, Gilbert will have an absolute field day in the tackling department.

How Bowling Green Wins

Bowling Green wins this game in front of its home fans if Doege's arm turns into a weapon. The Lubbock-native's brother Seth was a former air raid star at Texas Tech, so it is possible that Doege can control this game with his arm. Jinks is a huge fan of the passing game, as he also operated an air raid attack with the Red Raiders. Doege possesses one of the best receiving trios in the MAC: Scott Miller, Datrin Guyton, and Teo Redding. Proper utilization of this triumvirate should result in Bowling Green offensive production. The Falcons have yet to eclipse the 13-point mark against an FBS team, but the offense definitely has the potential to damage opposing secondaries with the passing attack.

How Akron Wins

Akron breaks the eight-game skid against its in-state rivals if the defense continues to force three-and-outs and turnovers against Bowling Green's inept offense. The Falcons have been unable to show competence driving down the field, and this plays into Akron's favor. Offensively, the Zips must open up the running game with Ball. Quarterback Thomas Woodson shouldn't have to throw for over 300 yards in order for Akron to emerge victorious but he must make smart throws, manage the game well, and improve that 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Game Notes

Location: Doyt Perry Stadium — Bowling Green, OH

Time: 6 p.m. EST

Network: ESPN3

Spread: Akron (-3)

ESPN FPI Matchup Predictor: Akron wins 55.1% percent of the time

All-time series: Bowling Green leads 16-7, winning eight-straight dating back to 2007. The Falcons topped the Zips 38-28 in early November last season.

Prediction

As we noticed in the Middle Tennessee game, Bowling Green is improving after hitting rock-bottom in Week 2. The Falcons are settling into a new offense run by Doege, and it seems to be heading in the right direction. However, the running game with backs Josh Cleveland and Donovan Wilson has yet to work. The Falcons must learn to pound the ball on the ground in order to establish a multidimensional offense. Perhaps that could improve their 14.3 PPG scoring mark.

Akron's defense is facing a favorable opponent. The unit impressed in the second half against Troy but the bridge finally caved in with a minute to go. Considering the Zips played a complete game against Troy and probably would have won without three turnovers, Akron has no reason to lose this game on the road. It will be close, but it's time for Terry Bowden to break the streak.

Prediction: Akron 24, Bowling Green 21