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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 6 Preview: Akron Zips at Bowling Green Falcons

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Akron snapped its 21-game skid vs. Bowling Green last December. Now, the Falcons are considerable favorites.

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Saturday, October 9 at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: Doyt Perry Stadium — Bowling Green, OH
  • Spread: Bowling Green (-13.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Bowling Green has 86.6% chance to win
  • All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 18-9
  • Last meeting: Akron 31, Bowling Green 3 — December 5, 2020

Setting the scene

A long run of futility finally came to a close in the first weekend of December last season. Akron’s 21-game losing streak, the longest in the FBS since 2010, reached its breaking point. In a battle between winless MAC East rivals, the Zips pounded Bowling Green in a 31-3 result to usher in the first victory of the Tom Arth era.

It’s less than a year later and the momentum Akron seemed to garner from that victory has dissolved. Meanwhile, Bowling Green was a lifeless program last December but now the Falcons boast one of the premier defenses in the MAC and are two weeks removed from a statement win over Minnesota. The Falcons enter the matchup at Doyt Perry Stadium as two touchdown favorites for the first time since the 2015 MAC championship season.

Akron (1-4, 0-1 MAC) aims to win its third football game since 2019, while Bowling Green (2-3, 0-1 MAC) is given an opportunity to revert back to .500 before MAC play thickens.


Akron Zips outlook

Last week might have been Akron’s easiest chance at a win for the rest of the season. Instead, the Zips left InfoCision Stadium in despair after allowing 24 unanswered points in a 3-score loss to a winless Ohio Bobcats team.

Akron’s defense couldn't contain the run at all. The Zips permitted Ohio to rack up 398 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground, averaging out to 8.5 yards per attempt. The inability to contain runners is nothing new for an Akron team which is one of three FBS programs to allow at least 6.5 yards per carry to the opposition. All-MAC inside linebacker Bubba Arslanian is usually all over the field creating tackles for the Zips, but his injury prevented him from seeing action in the Ohio game.

If Arslanian remains out, other names will be called upon to lend a hand in stopping the run. One of those players is inside linebacker Reggie Corner Jr., and that name may sound familiar to seasoned Akron fans. Corner Jr.’s father served as the Zips’ star cornerback in the mid-2000s and leveraged his collegiate success into a 4-year stint with the Buffalo Bulls. The younger Corner does not share the position of his namesake, however, but he did record six tackles and his first career sack in increased playing time last Saturday.

While Bowling Green may not pose as much of a threat to Akron’s run defense, considering the Falcons are last in the nation in rushing, the upcoming opponent could dice Akron’s passing defense with a series of quick lasers. The Zips allow the fourth highest completion rate in the FBS at 72.4 percent, so Bowling Green could see sustained success through the air against Akron unless major adjustments are made.

Offensively, Akron found itself a promising quarterback of the future in D.J. Irons. The sophomore from Georgia has demonstrated great efficiency for the Zips this year. Among all FBS quarterbacks with 100 passing attempts, Irons ranks 16th in completion rate at 69.2 percent. Three times this year has Irons connected on 80 percent of passes in a game, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-to-3 is solid for a program which hasn’t thrown more touchdowns than picks since 2018.

Irons is mobile and displays escapability, but he needs more time in the pocket to thrive. He’s been wrapped up for 13 sacks in his last two outings and those sacks are adding up to hinder the Akron offense. In addition to sharpened offensive line play, what Akron especially needs is a breakout star in the skill positions. No running back has attained 70 rushing yards for the Zips this season. Only once has a receiver attained 70 yards in five games — Michael Mathison’s 110-yard breakout showing against Temple. Generating lethal, consistent production from running backs or receivers is a must for a program with a budding quarterback talent in Irons.


Bowling Green Falcons outlook

Bowling Green is still here. Despite a loss to Kent State and an 0-1 start to MAC play, there were several positive takeaways from the Falcons’ 27-20 loss. Bowling Green’s defense, led by first-year defensive coordinator Eric Lewis, still proved to be one of the elite units in the MAC when pitted against Dustin Crum and the high-flying Kent State offense.

The Falcons limited Kent State’s usually-efficient passing game to 134 yards on a 53.6 percent completion rate — averaging out to 4.8 yards per attempt. Many opposing QBs have struggled against Bowling Green’s secondary this year, yielding well below their typical passing outputs on this defense. In fact, three teams have failed to complete more than half of their passes vs. the Falcons. In fact, this team has allowed only one touchdown pass all season compared to forcing five interceptions. Davon Ferguson is having himself a year as the team’s lead cornerback. With four pass breakups and 5.5 tackles for loss, Ferguson is one of the toughest man coverage matchups in the MAC, and he is a frequent guest in the backfield on corner blitzes.

Bowling Green fielded the worst rushing defense in the land last year, but the 2021 iteration of that unit is vastly improved. Last season, teams averaged 6.3 yards per carry on the Falcons, but that number has diminished to 4.1. Outside linebacker Darren Anders has been at the forefront of the progress, accumulating a team-high 44 tackles along with 4.0 tackles for loss — on track to qualify for an All-MAC selection.

While the rushing defense has taken a turn for the better, the rushing offense has done the opposite. Bowling Green has yet to average 3.0 yards per carry in a single game this year. Last Saturday, running back Jaison Patterson attained 60 rushing yards on Kent State to signify the team’s best rushing performance against an FBS team this year. Still, the Falcons were collectively stuffed to 2.1 yards per attempt. Overall, Bowling Green is averaging a nation’s worst 50 rushing yards per contest and no sign of a turnaround has been evident through five games. If there’s ever a week for things to start clicking, it’s against the Akron defense which permitted a previously-hapless Ohio offense to run wild last weekend.

If the rushing struggles persist, Bowling Green could effectively replace that facet of the game with a series of short passes. The Falcons’ dropped back 51 times a week ago compared to 21 designed rushing plays, so they are already trending in that direction. Quarterback Matt McDonald is one of the most improved players in the conference and last week he attained 263 passing yards — the second best mark of his collegiate career. McDonald is connecting on more than 66 percent of his throws, and he has mastered delivering crisp dimes on slants and out routes.

The trio of Tyrone Broden, Austin Osborne, and Christian Sims have bolstered the receiving game this year, and each receiver shined with 5+ catches and 50+ yards a week ago. Osborne is a notable breakout player in the bunch, and he is currently tied for second in the MAC in receptions. The Washington transfer, one of McDonald’s favorite targets dating back to high school, is operating as the perfect possession receiver to keep Bowling Green’s drives afloat.


Prediction

Take a look at both offensive and both defensive units in this matchup, and the group that stands out the most is Bowling Green’s defense by a long shot. The Falcons’ up-and-coming defense is going to force Akron into a low-scoring, grind-it-out slugfest, as it did to Minnesota, South Alabama, and even Kent State to an extent.

Eric Lewis is going to generate blitzes to pressure Irons in the pocket, and limiting the most significant player in the Zips’ offense is a strategy which could pay dividends for the Falcons. Overall, it’s difficult to envision Akron generating much offense on this team given what we’ve seen in recent weeks. On the other hand, this might be Bowling Green’s most successful offensive outing all season. The Falcons have good reason to renew faith in the ground game against the Akron defense, and Scot Loeffler’s passing attack built on short, reliable throws should still pick apart the Zips.

Bowling Green will leave the Doyt with a double-digit victory and a midseason record as strong as 3-3 for the first time since 2015.

Prediction: Bowling Green 24, Akron 13