After a crazy last couple of weeks for both teams, the Ohio Bobcats (7-4, 5-2 MAC) will host the Akron Zips (4-6, 2-5 MAC) on Friday as the latter are on the brink of bowl eligibility. Akron would need a win against OU as well as a season-ending victory at South Carolina to clinch a spot in bowl season. As for Ohio, a win would give Miami a chance to win the MAC East with a Buffalo loss while an Ohio loss or a UB win would give the Bulls a division title.
For most of MAC play, Ohio has looked dominant on both sides of the ball but close losses to NIU and Miami have put it in a position in which it has no shot of winning the MAC East. In conference games this season, the Bobcats have posted prolific numbers on offense as they are the best team in the MAC in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, passing efficiency, and third and fourth down conversions. The defense for the ‘Cats will give up yards but is extremely opportunistic as it has taken the ball away a MAC-high 20 times in conference games.
Nathan Rourke has been the real deal in 2018 with nearly 3,000 total yards and 31 total touchdowns. A.J. Ouellette needs 27 yards rushing to break 1,000 in what has been a historic career in Athens as he would be one of only three Bobcats to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive years. Papi White is also leaving Ohio as one of the most prolific players in program history with 2,467 career receiving yards (second all-time), 19 TDs (second all-time), and 154 catches (fourth all-time).
Meanwhile, Akron has dropped three straight games and there is no room for error in terms of its opportunity to reach a bowl. The Zips have not been productive on offense in MAC play as they rank 12th in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, and third down conversions. Also compounding things are the 17 turnovers in MAC play, a league high. A positive for the Zips resides on defense as John Lako has recorded 11.7 tackles per game in MAC games, which is good for second in the conference.
As in any game, the special teams has the potential to flip this game for one side or another. Ohio boasts an explosive kickoff return unit with 22.6 yards per return in conference play while the same can be said about Akron’s punt return game with their 10.2 yards per return and a score in MAC games. The two teams also have exceptional coverage units (0.4 net yards difference per return on kickoff, 2.2 net yards difference on punts with both advantages belonging to Ohio) while Akron has a significant advantage in the kicking game as it is 9-11 on field goal tries in MAC play while OU is just 3-6.
This is a game that Ohio should win handily, but it needs to start fast and win the game early. If the Bobcats let Akron hang around, the Zips will have an opportunity to score a big upset. Look for both teams trying to establish the ground game first before taking some vertical shots in the second half. If Kato Nelson can take care of the ball, Akron will have a chance but Ohio will be ready to get some momentum heading into the postseason. OU 27-17.