The Zips and the ‘Cats are two teams heading into their first game on the MAC schedule from different starting points.
For the Bobcats, the change to conference play is a chance to hit the reset button on a season that has started with some tough opponents and adversity in many forms, including a rash of injuries to the o-line where All-MAC level talent in left guard Kurt Danneker and center and captain Nick Sink were lost for what figures to be significant periods.
Meanwhile, Akron heads into conference play looking to build on some positive moments in non-conference play, showing clear signs of improvement under head coach Tom Arth in year three. While the Zips were crushed in two “budget balancers” with Ohio State (59-7) and Auburn (60-10), Akron showed some sparks, particularly on offense, in games where they were more evenly matched, like the game against the Temple Owls where they started with a 14-0 lead.
We take a look at some game notes followed by a look at some keys heading into Saturday’s contest.
- Time and Date: Saturday October 2nd at 3:30 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN 3
- Location: InfoCision Stadium, Akron, Ohio
- Weather: Partly Sunny, 77 degrees
- Line: Ohio (-9.5) per OddsShark.com
- Special Event: Homecoming
Hit ‘em hard
The Temple Owls beat the Zips in week two and in so doing provided a blueprint which teams have since followed for some explosive offensive plays: hit Akron on the edges of the defense, anywhere from the flats to any other point down the sidelines or deep middle.
And good news for Ohio is that they have the personnel to work the edges, whether it is WR Jerome Buckner or Ty Walton on the jet sweep or toss, QB Armani Rogers on the option, De’Montre Tuggle or O’Shaan Allison on the running back toss, swing pass, or wheel route, or WR Isiah Cox on the streak.
Hitting some explosive offensive plays would be a welcome change from the non-conference schedule, where Ohio was unable to hit on explosive plays with the regularity to which they have grown accustomed in recent years.
Corral Kato or Shackle Irons
On his coaches show Tuesday night, head coach Tom Arth shared that QB Kato Nelson, the starter until his injury in week two, was “fully available” this week but did not declare Nelson the starter or say if back up QB DJ Irons would play.
While Nelson led the team to some quick scores in the first half the Temple game and has extensive experience, its not out of the question that DJ Irons would continue to start based on his production; in two starts in Nelson’s absence and two relief appearances, Irons has done some serious damage with eight TDs accounted for, six passing, two rushing.
Whether its Nelson or Irons on Saturday, or both, the Bobcats’ will be looking to contain a dual-threat quarterback.
MAC fans will be familiar with what Nelson brings to the table, but a look at Irons shows an impressive prospect.
At 6’6”, 215 lbs., Irons has the size to survey the field and durability to hold up while running the ball. Irons has shown good arm strength and no part of the field is off limits.
While both QBs are dual-threat, if Irons plays, priority one will be preventing the him from doing damage on the ground. With 46 rushing attempts in about 13 quarters of play at Akron, Irons likes to run and the Zips will do serious damage if Irons can get loose with regularity.
If Ohio is going to slow down either QB on the ground, Ohio’s defensive line will need to stay disciplined to protect their gaps and, if blitzing, Ohio will need to make the tackle or risk giving up explosive runs.
Containing a wide receiver group on the rise
The Bobcats will also have to deal with what is quietly, outside of Akron perhaps, developing into one of the better wide receiver groups in the MAC, led by dynamic WR duo “M & M”: Michael Mathison and freshman Konata Mumpfield. Mathison comes into the contest with career numbers including 1,180 all-purpose yards and three scores while Mumpfield is on track to tally some votes for MAC Freshman of the Year with 18 receptions and three scores.
Run That Ball
With the Bobcats allowing 286 yards rushing per game on average, the Zips will surely test Ohio for improvement in that area.
And, with the success the Zips had in last year’s game against the ‘Cats running the ball (216 yards), Akron figures not to have to make many changes in the playbook to test Ohio here. Some of the off-tackle runs by Akron last year are similar to ones Syracuse or Louisiana used to good effect against the Bobcats in 2021.
If Akron rushers Jonzell Norrils or Blake Hester are hitting 5-7 yard runs on first down consistently, Ohio will be in trouble.
Stop the Run
The Bobcats would like nothing more offensively than to get back to the formula that produced three straight bowl wins in the 2017-2019 seasons: run the ball dominantly and hit some explosive plays in the passing game when the defense is focused on the run.
Although the Bobcats’ o-line has been hampered by injuries, Akron will still face a challenge as Ohio still has some serious firepower in the running game with two All-MAC caliber running backs in De’Montre Tuggle and O’Shaan Allison and QB Armani Rogers, who has been coming on in recent weeks; on the season, Rogers has 122 yards on 16 carries, including a 55-yard TD run against Northwestern.
What the Zips’ run defense may ultimately look like is a mystery at this point because they only played one game versus an evenly-matched opponent, Temple, and held the Owls to a managable 177 yards.
What is known is the Zips defense is strong on the interior, where NT Bryce Wilson and LBs Bubba Arslanian and Jeslord Boateng form a solid core.
Wilson doesn’t pile up the stats but does the dirty work, maintaining his gaps and keeping his LBs free to flow and make plays.
Arslanian enters the contest with 253 career tackles and will be all over the field on defense and special teams.
Michigan State transfer Jeslord Boateng has been effective early on with 23 tackles but was banged up last week versus Ohio State and his status is publicly unknown for the MAC opener. If Boateng is limited, Brando Bischof will be there to step in. Bischof was productive against Ohio State last week, finishing with six tackles.
This game could go either way, but If the turnovers are even or in the Bobcats’ favor, Ohio should get its first win under head coach Tim Albin.
Ohio has struggled offensively with 13.8 points per game in non-conference. Despite the injuries to the o-line, Ohio has too much talent offensively on the coaching staff and with Tuggle, Allison, Cox, Buckner, Rourke, Rogers, and company not to get more done on the scoreboard at some point this season.