To say that the season has not gone as planned in the win-loss column for either the Ohio Bobcats (5-6, 4-3 MAC) or the Akron Zips (0-11, 0-7 MAC) is a massive understatement, but both teams have something to work for as they play their final MACtion games of 2019.
Ohio’s three-point losses to division leaders Miami RedHawks (24-21) and Western Michigan Broncos (37-34 in OT) bumped them out of a MAC championship race they were preseason favorites to win, but Ohio can become bowl-eligible for the 11th straight season with a win over Akron.
Athlon and ESPN both see Ohio sneaking into the Armed Forces Bowl on January 4, 2019 vs the Air Force Falcons. The Armed Forces Bowl is not affiliated with the MAC (Big Ten v. Mountain West) but Athlon sees Ohio getting the nod because it is projecting the Big Ten ‘will fail to fill its allotted slots.’
Ohio has represented the MAC well in bowl games recently. Ohio is the only MAC squad to win a bowl game since 2016. Ohio has also won back-to-back bowl games by a combined score of 68-6, including the only shutout bowl win in MAC history (a 27-0 win over the San Diego State Aztecs in the 2018 Frisco Bowl).
Akron comes into the contest against Ohio looking for its first win of the season. With an 0-11 record, it would be understandable to believe, against Ohio, Akron will (insert your favorite idiom, mine being a close call between: “mailing it in” and “phoning it in”).
But if Akron’s performance against division-leading Miami last week is any indication, I don’t believe Akron actually will mail or phone it in. Last week vs. the RedHawks, Akron had the ball in the waning moments of the fourth quarter only to come up short with a final score of 20-17.
That performance against Miami showed me a lot about the character of the 2019 Zips team: they will show up to battle against Ohio despite their record.
More than team goals, this game features some of the some of the very best Mid-American Conference players of 2019 playing in, for at least some, their last college football game.
Ohio features our number one and seventh-ranked MAC players of 2019 in Quarterback Nathan Rourke and Safety Javon Hagan.
Rourke will leave Ohio as arguably one of the best QBs in Ohio history. And he may have saved his best season for last as Rourke still has a chance to set single-season bests in passing yards, completion percentage, and rushing yards.
Javon Hagan leads the Bobcats in tackles this season with 97. Hagan is also on the 2020 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl ‘Big Board’ as a player to watch for selection to attend this post-season game featuring NFL prospects.
Akron features our ninth and 14th-ranked MAC players of 2019 in defensive back Alvin Davis Jr. and linebacker John Lako.
Davis leads the Akron secondary with 73 tackles and has been all over the field in recent weeks.
Linebacker John Lako has played like a first-team All-MAC selection this season with 130 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception returned for a touchdown.
During his November 22, 2019 press conference, Akron head Coach Tom Arth was asked to “put John Lako’s performance this season into perspective.” Here is some of what Coach Arth had to say about John Lako:
“Every (NFL) scout that comes in, there hasn’t been one that walks through these doors that I’m not seeking out, telling them-you better take this guy. I don’t care if he is drafted or, as an undrafted free agent, get him in your organization…’
“When we go out recruiting guys, we are gonna be comparing them to John Lako. Like, is he like John, does he have the same makeup as John? Is he the same character as John? Does he have a love of the game like John? Is he willing to do the things John is willing to do? John is gonna be a benchmark for us...”
Ohio enters the game as 27.5-point favorites for good reason.
Ohio offense, although playing inconsistently at times this season, is probably the best unit overall in the game. Ohio is ranked 38th in scoring in the FBS with 33.1 points per game despite playing four teams ranked in the top 43 in scoring defense.
By comparison, Akron’s offense comes into the contest averaging 11.2 having played two teams ranked in the top 43 in scoring defense.
To take this game into the fourth quarter with a chance to win, Akron’s defense needs to slow the running game down and win the turnover battle.
Slowing down Ohio’s rushing attack won’t be an easy task.
Ohio is 27th in the FBS in rushing yards per game and primary back freshman O’Shaan Allison is coming off the most productive game of his career last week vs Bowling Green Falcons with 12 carries for 175 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Ohio QB Nathan Rourke has 743 yards rushing on the season and was leading the Bobcats in rushing until Allison’s monster game last week.
Bobcat’s running back De’Montre Tuggle has contributed 469 yards and leads Ohio with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Akron’s defense has looked good against the run at times and will need big games from Lako, Davis, and linebacker Bubba Arslanian to limit Ohio’s explosive plays in the running game.
Akron and Ohio have struggled in turnover margin this year. Ohio was tied for fifth in the FBS in turnover margin in 2018 with +13 but have slid to 92nd in 2019 with -4. Akron’s turnover margin in 2019 is -15 which is probably the biggest single reason for their struggles.
For instance, Akron’s -2 turnover ratio against UMass may have turned a win into an 8-point loss.
Also, as coach Arth pointed out at this week’s press conference, Akron can compete in the MAC when it has an edge in the turnover battle. With a +2 advantage last week, Akron took Miami down to the wire in a 20-17 loss.
Should Akron find itself on the wrong side of the turnover battle vs Ohio, the game could spiral out of control rapidly as Ohio’s offense scored 66 points last week in less than three quarters of football last week against Bowling Green on a +4 advantage.
Ohio hasn’t done well nearly as well in creating turnovers in 2019 as they did in 2018 but Ohio should be able to lose the turnover battle by a few and still put enough offense together to win. If Ohio is even in turnovers or wins the battle, they should cover the spread.
The game will be broadcast Tuesday, November 26th at 6:00pm ET on ESPN+. ESPN+ is a separate service from cable and requires a valid subscription.