Following their second half collapse against Western Michigan en route to a 40-39 loss, the Miami RedHawks (1-4, 1-1 MAC) need to right the ship quick as they hit the road to take on an Akron Zips (2-1) team that won on the road at Northwestern and fell in a competitive loss to Iowa State. A win would put the ‘Hawks at 2-1 in conference play and erase some doubt as to Miami’s prospects in 2018, while a win for Akron would put the Zips on Buffalo’s level as MAC East contenders.
Akron is a hard team to evaluate since they’ve only played three games to this point, thanks to Scared Nebraska and last week’s bye. Despite this, Kato Nelson has been effective at quarterback as he is fourth in the MAC with 265.7 total yards per game. Van Edwards is a nice complement to the passing game with 4.3 yards per carry against tough defenses, and should blow up in conference action. However, Akron has only made five trips into the red zone in three games and convert 34.9% of their third downs.
Defense has been a strength for Akron as it is first in the MAC in scoring defense with 22.3 points allowed per game and in rushing defense with 98 yards allowed per game. The Zips are also great in situational defense: they’ve only allowed five red zone touchdowns on 11 opportunities and held offenses to 29.8% successful on third down. John Lako had been a force on defense with 9.3 tackles per game while Alvin Davis leads the MAC with three interceptions and two defensive scores.
Miami’s woes have been well-documented this season and have been cause for some restlessness among the RedHawk fanbase. The offense is ninth in the league in rushing with 116.2 yards per game and tenth in the league in passing with 203.4 yards per game. Of the MAC teams that have played five games, Miami has the second-fewest first downs with 81 (an abysmal Central Michigan offense has 69 first downs on the year). Despite all of this, Jack Sorenson has been a positive lift as his 360 receiving yards is good enough for seventh in the MAC.
The ‘Hawks have shown some flashes of being pretty good on defense by allowing 3.4 yards per carry and registering 11 sacks, but they have allowed the most passing touchdowns in the MAC with 14 while having the fewest interceptions in the league with one on top of giving up the second-most first downs with 23.8 per game and being a sieve on fourth down (opposing offenses going 6-7 on the down). In addition to all of this, they have also given up the second-most red zone touchdowns of any MAC team with 16. DeAndre Montgomery and Brad Koenig have established themselves as playmakers defensively, but this unit needs production from other players in order to be successful.
If the game comes down to field position, Miami has a distinct advantage in terms of special teams. The Red and White average 27.5 yards per kickoff return (Akron 14.5), 37.8 net yards per punt (34.4 for the Zips), and 44.1 net yards on kick off (40.9 for UA).
This is a game that Akron should win fairly easily. The running game for Miami is not going to threaten the Zips’ defense and putting the game squarely in Gus Ragland’s hands will give them some opportunities to get off the field. Mobile QBs have given Miami’s defense fits under Chuck Martin and Nelson will have some opportunities for big plays against a unit that looked porous against WMU. However, if Miami can contain Nelson and stay on the field offensively, this game will be closer than a lot of people expect. 38-24 Zips in a hard-fought game.