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2021 Week 7 Preview: Akron Zips @ Miami RedHawks

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With identical 2-4 records and tied in the conference standings, Akron and Miami (OH) look to create separation from each other in Oxford.

Akron v Miami Ohio Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Saturday, October 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: Yager Stadium — Oxford, OH
  • Spread: Miami (-19.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Miami has 92.5% chance to win
  • All-time series: Miami leads, 20-9-1
  • Last meeting: Miami 38, Akron 7 — November 28, 2020

Setting the scene

This series always comes in fours. From 2007-12, Miami (OH) won four consecutive matchups over the Zips. Then, Akron avenged the losing streak with four straight wins of its own from 2013-16. Currently, Miami is back on a four-game streak after breezing to a 38-7 victory last November.

This year, the teams are evenly matched in the standings, both fielding 2-4 overall records with a 1-1 mark in conference play. It’s separation Saturday for the MAC East programs hoping to improve to 2-1 in the MAC and stay afloat in a wide-open race to Detroit.


Akron Zips outlook

Texas A&M stunning Alabama on a last-second field goal certainly dropped some jaws on Saturday night. Other than that bizarre finish in College Station, the most shocking result of Week 6 probably belonged to the Zips. As two-touchdown underdogs, Akron overcame a 13-0 first half deficit to trounce Bowling Green 35-20 on the road.

And this wasn’t the doormat Bowling Green team of yesteryear. This Falcons team defeated Minnesota and exhibited a passing defense that gave opposing quarterbacks fits each week. On a defense which prevented three teams from completing over 50 percent of passes, Akron quarterback Zach Gibson checked in to connect on 14 of 15 attempts. In the highly efficient performance, Gibson delivered three third quarter touchdown passes to propel Akron to a 35-point showing — tied for the program’s highest scoring output since September 2018.

Gibson, the primary starter from 2020, received another opportunity after Kato Nelson joined D.J. Irons as the second Akron quarterback in the last two games to exit due to injury. With injuries playing a factor, Gibson likely retains his role as the starter especially after leading all FBS players in QB rating in Week 6.

Akron’s offense also received a boost from the running game, which strung together its strongest performance of the season. No Zips running back crossed the 70-yard threshold prior to the Bowling Green game, but Blake Hester exploded for 120 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win. The team also witnessed its best receiving performance of the season as Konata Mumpfield chipped in 106 yards on six receptions. Mumpfield corralled two touchdown receptions, including a leaping grab in the end zone to hand Akron a 14-13 lead that would not be relinquished.

The defense stepped up too with a stellar second half showing, limiting Bowling Green to a mere touchdown in the final two frames. Oftentimes this year, Akron has started strong, but last week the best was saved for the second half. The Zips forced an absurd five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. This reversed a concerning trend after Akron was the recipient of just three takeaways in its first five games. Without All-MAC inside linebacker Bubba Arslanian in the lineup, Akron required a defensive playmaker to step up, and those contributions came in the form of cornerback Tyson Durant. Durant forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, picked off a pass, and recorded a sack in 60 minutes of game clock to lock up MAC East Defensive Player of the Week honors.


Miami RedHawks outlook

Miami didn’t score a touchdown last week, but the RedHawks were still two points away from preserving a 2-0 record in league play. The offense took a major hit without the presence of starting quarterback Brett Gabbert, who left the Central Michigan game with an injury in Week 5. At Eastern Michigan, backup A.J. Mayer started his third game of the season and registered 259 yards on 16/39 passing. The Dayton Daily News reports that head coach Chuck Martin is “optimistic” that Gabbert could return Saturday along with senior running back Jaylon Bester, who has only played one game since leading the 2019 MAC title team in rushing yards.

Bester’s return could assist a rushing attack in desperate need of a spark. The RedHawks have yet to boast a 100-yard rusher this season, and last Saturday, the team’s leading ball carrier finished with under 50 yards for the third time in 2021. Kansas State transfer Keyon Mozee currently holds the most attempts and yardage to his name by a significant margin. However, Martin is mixing up his rushing attack since the return of Tyre Shelton — a major contributor from the 2019 team who missed the entirety of 2020. Shelton returned from injury two weeks ago and led all rushers in Ypsilanti in Week 6 with 41 yards on nine handoffs.

The RedHawks offense typically prefers to highlight the passing attack. The receiving corps is equipped with one of the best duos in the entire conference — Jack Sorenson and Mac Hippenhammer. Sorenson, the 2019 MAC Championship Game MVP, amassed a season-high 123 receiving yards in Week 6 on seven receptions. He has one of the best sets of hands in the MAC and is a common threat on corner routes and around the end zone. After compiling 354 yards and four touchdowns in a 3-game 2020 season, Sorenson is back to producing at an impressive rate, and he ranks fifth in the conference in receiving yards.

In the past two weeks, Hippenhammer has emerged into a lethal second option alongside Sorenson. He shouldered a massive load on offense in Miami’s victory over Central Michigan with a career-best 170 receiving yards in the conference opener. Then, Hippenhammer followed up his stellar showing with 94 yards last week while serving as the RedHawks’ premier vertical threat.

Miami led the nation in sacks per game last year, and the RedHawks still tend to dominate the line of scrimmage on defense. Led by star defensive end Kameron Butler, the RedHawks overwhelmed Eastern Michigan’s backfield with six sacks. Butler is one of three defensive linemen to rack up at least three sacks this season, joining Lonnie Phelps and Ben Kimpler. Akron’s offensive line is currently situated at last in the FBS, yielding 5.5 sacks per game so Miami should be able to expose some of the Zips’ flaws in the trenches.

Although he has yet to record a sack this season, Ivan Pace Jr. — the FBS record holder for sacks in a game — is a dangerous member of this defense. Pace tied the record by managing to sack Akron six times during the programs’ last meeting in Oxford. While quarterbacks haven’t taken hits from him in the backfield in 2021, Pace is still dominating with a team-high 55 tackles, three tackles for loss, and an interception on the year.

Although Miami will bring the blitz often, the team must be wary of pass rushers when the field is flipped. Eastern Michigan officially recorded 17 QB hurries on Mayer last week — a number which clearly explains the RedHawks’ 41 percent completion rate. With Miami operating under pressure from kickoff to final buzzer, it was no mystery why all points the RedHawks scored were attributed to the kicker.

That kicker would be Graham Nicholson, a young star emerging on this special teams unit. The Cincinnati native was responsible for all 12 of the RedHawks’ points last weekend and the freshman has sunk an accurate 7-of-8 field goal attempts in his career. Nicholson is particularly lethal between 40-49 yards, where five of his six kicks have split the uprights. Only two FBS kickers have drained more 40-49 yarders this season, so Miami is in excellent shape when it comes to the kicking game from considerable distance.


Prediction

Akron’s offense certainly took some leaps and bounds last week, but there was one aspect of the victory that isn’t sustainable — the Zips probably aren’t producing five takeaways in a game again this season.

Thus, Akron must find ways to get stops against a Miami team that prefers to air the ball out. The Zips’ passing defense often allows quarterbacks to have efficient outings and this recurring issue must be mitigated if they want to win their second consecutive matchup. Only six teams permit a higher completion percentage than Akron this season, so the RedHawks’ accuracy numbers should skyrocket after last week’s disastrous showing.

Also, Miami is going to bring the heat in the pass rush. Akron’s offensive line hasn’t been sturdy this year as the FBS’s worst pass protection unit. With the RedHawks’ horde of aggressive defensive linemen charging at them all game, Miami is certain to collect many stops in the backfield.

Akron’s offense proved it can do some damage and the Zips have enjoyed solid quarterback play from three different signal callers this year. Thus, they’ll keep it a ballgame, but Miami emerges on top to improve to 3-4.

Prediction: Miami (OH) 26, Akron 17