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2019 MAC Football Game Preview “Talking sMACk”: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Akron Zips

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The first #MACtion game of the season will take place in the friendly confines of Mt. Pleasant.

NCAA Football: Akron at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The first conference game of the year will take place in the third week of the season, as the Akron Zips (0-2) travel northwest to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, to face the Central Michigan Chippewas (1-1) on Saturday afternoon.

Last week wasn’t particularly fun to write home about for either side, as both experienced losses, though the degree to which both teams lost could not have been any more different.

Akron gave up a 31-point unanswered run to the UAB Blazers en route to a 31-20 loss at home, while CMU went on the road to 17th-ranked Wisconsin and were summarily dusted into the ground 61-0.

It sets up an all-important Week 3 match for these two rebuilding programs, as getting a leg up in the divisional and conference standings would serve as a boost in increasing morale in the locker room.

Both teams will come in to the game with many questions which will hopefully find some answers, and the game itself could be set up to be one of the more intruguing options on the schedule.

This week, Keith Gregorski, our Akron reporter, and myself will split the duties of the preview, discussing our teams in tandem, as we attempt to preview the upcoming tilt.


When Akron has the ball

Keith: CMU ranks a solid 52 out of 130 FBS teams this season in rushing defense; unfortunately, CMU will not likely get to show off its run defense because Akron has not shown any consistent ability or desire to run the football.

This game sets up perfectly for Akron’s passing attack to take its game to the next level. Akron is ranked 55th out of 130 FBS teams in passing yardage per game. How is CMU ranked defensively in passing yards allowed? 114th.

Akron will run the ball a few times then unleash QB Kato Nelson to start throwing the rock all over the field. One of the bright spots in Akron’s 0-2 start are the emerging playmakers at wide receiver. Dustin Burkhart had a career day last week with 217 yards receiving on eight catches. Nate Stewart has also has emerged this season, contributing 9 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Akron also has a talented WR in Andre Williams, who has kind of been in the shadows to this point this year with three catches for 30 yards. Last year, Williams led Akron with 46 receptions for 649 yards and six touchdowns. If Andre Williams blows up this year, this could be when it starts.

If Akron does attempt to run the football, I have a feeling they might go with an option we have not seen this season. With freshman permitted to play four games without losing a year of eligibility, if I was Akron, I’d be tempted to give three-star freshman RB Peter Hayes-Patrick or someone else down the depth charts some reps here. What do you have to lose when your 127th in the country in rushing yards per game on offense?

James: The CMU defense suffered a pretty bad loss with the injury to Amir Siddiq, the defensive end who replaced Mike Danna this offseason. He was taken off in a cart and looked to have injured his foot or ankle against Wisconsin. There will be questions surrounding his availability for this week.

This matters in part because the Chips will face a pass-happy offense in the Akron Zips, who have attempted 72 passes in the past two games, a much higher rate than they were running at last season under former head coach Tommy Bowden. They’ve managed to do all right, averaging 243.6 yards per game and 6.76 yards per attempt. The Zips, largely, have had to lean upon the pass game in part because the Zips rushing attack has been abysmal, averaging 1.6 yards per attempt on 67 attempts.

This places the impetus on the secondary to perform up to par. That’s a tall task, as the pass defense has been absolutely burned through two games, giving up 599 yards through the air and five touchdowns, while picking up zero interceptions. The corners, in particular, have been hard-pressed to perform, as the staff hasn’t seemed to find a solution to their problem, shuffling in as many as six or seven different players to find a combination that works. Akron has multiple burners on the outside, including Williams and last week’s offensive player of the week in the MAC East in Dustin Burkhart who could take advantage of the matchups on the outside.

The way the Chippewas will likely counter the pass defense by using their front seven to contain Kato Nelson and force him into making pressure throws, as Nelson is prone to scrambling and makign panic plays to avoid getting sacked. The CMU defense, wihch is predicated on causing havoc plays in the backfield, can use that to their advantage, as Akron is the worst program in the country at avoiding havoc plays per ESPN’s Bill Connelley.


When Central has the ball

Keith: With QB Quinten Dormady and RB Jonathan Ward questionable for this week with injuries, I’m feeling better about Akron’s defensive chances.

In our preseason Ye Olde Roundtable, I chose Quinten Dormady as my QB likely to have the best first season in the MAC and his opening game performance against Albany confirmed that with 285 yards passing and three touchdown passes.

One of the biggest weakest links in Akron’s armor defensively is pass defense, especially deep pass defense, with the UAB Blazers last week throwing touchdown passes of 40, 49, and 76 yards. But without Dormady, who is gonna throw these passes? CMU has some talent in the backup position at QB, but it is inexperienced.

The area of most improvement for Akron’s defense from week one to week two was its run defense. LB’s John Lako and Bubba Arslanian have combined for 43 tackles, a sack, and a PBU in two games. NT Davon’te West blew up the run game last week with 11 tackles. And if CMU’s Ward cannot go, CMU will have to look to more inexperienced guys in an attempt to run the ball against what is an Akron strength.

James: It’s true that Dormady (knee) and Ward (undisclosed) are questionable to play. I’d say they likely won’t take the field against Akron, as the coaching staff feels relatively confident in their backups at those positions to perform this week.

That means JUCO transfer David Moore and sophomore Kobe Lewis will likely be the starters this week, as they’ve been practicing at those positions. Moore went a lackluster 3-of-11 for 1 yard in an unceremonious debut in an untenable situation against Wisconsin, so this week will probably give us a more accurate assesment of Moore as a QB prospect. Lewis has been an intriguing player since he came on to campus, last year, wowing staffers with his burst and vision as he played in all 12 games as a true freshman. True freshman Lew Nichols, who head coach Jim McElwain has mentioned multiple times in pressers, will also get some run and offers a different look at RB.

The most intriguing matchup will be on the outside, as Akron will feature some stellar defenders in the pass game with Alvin Davis and Shawn Featherstone in the defensive backfield going up against a slew of inexperienced receivers for CMU. Tyrone Scott was the hero of the Albany game with two touchdowns, but did not feature at all last week. Starter Ja’Corey Sullivan still has no receptions this season, while Kalil Pimpleton has mustered 11 receptions in two games, easily leading the group. This could well be the biggest test of the receivers so far and is a great opportunity for someone to step up and take s spot.


Game Notes

  • Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium Mount Pleasant, Michigan
  • When: 3 p.m. ET on Sat., Sept. 14, 2019
  • Where to watch: ESPN+, an exclusive subscription service independent of cable subscriptions. Starts at $5/month, comes with a free one-week trial.
  • Weather: Sunny and 72 degrees at kickoff.
  • Odds: CMU is a -3 point favorite at home, effectively making the game a push. THe over/under is 46, per OddsShark.

Predictions

Keith: Akron will be able to pass with Kato Nelson throwing to a number of emerging playmakers at WR. CMU, if they are without Dormady, will be unable to take as full advantage of the opportunities available in Akron’s secondary. If Ward cannot go, the running game becomes more of a question mark against Akron’s defensive strength: run defense. Akron’s special teams will give CMU some short fields but it wont be enough. Akron 34, CMU 27

James: I don’t like making score predictions, but to expect this game to be offensive fireworks is really asking a lot out of both of these teams, given their struggles so far. That said, two programs of similar talent levels playing one another can be extremely unpredictable. The game will either de a defensive grind or an offensive explosion, no in-between. I’m prone to think it’ll be the former, as opposed to the latter. CMU might get the edge in this game as the home favorite.