This was not the position Central Michigan (1-5, 0-2 MAC West) expected to be in at his point in the season when looking at the 2022 calendar prior to the start of the year, but it’s the position they’re in, needing a win to stop the bleeding against a historically-vulnerable Akron (1-5, 0-2 MAC East) squad on the road to keep their hopes of being in the postseason alive.
Both teams are in the midst of long losing streaks, with CMU on a three-game streak and Akron on a five-game slide, and need a win to preserve any semblance of hope for the second half of the 2022 season.
With CMU and Akron both needing a vital result, we delve into the state of both programs heading into Saturday:
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 15, 2022, at noon Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN+ (A subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio
- Spread/Total: Central is a 13.5-point road favorite, with an over/under of 59, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: CMU leads the all-time conference series 17-10-1, taking home a 45-24 victory against the Zips in 2019 the last time the two teams faced off.
Getting to know the Chippewas
CMU was selected to finish third in their division in the preseason media polls, with an outside chance to win the MAC title outright, but this season has played out in the exact opposite way, one loss away from being in danger of missing the preseason unless there’s a quick turnaround.
By the numbers, this is still largely the same team it was last season, with one of the league’s more efficient offenses and a defense predicated on causing turnovers and forcing punts. By the results, it’s a team which has gotten most of its yards playing from behind in games which were largely decided and has had negative turnover luck while allowing several big plays per game on defense.
The regression is most evident on offense, as they’ve struggled to replace the production of two first-team all-MAC tackles and two first-team all-MAC receivers. A Top 25 unit last season, the offensive output is now fairly average, sitting 67th of 131 programs.
Daniel Richardson has especially struggled, completing just 55 percent of his passes for 1,586 yards, though he has thrown 12 touchdowns and thrown four interceptions. Maryland transfer Carlos Carriere (33 rec., 379 yards, two touchdowns) and tight end Joel Wilson (31 rec., 319 yards, four touchdowns) have been the most reliable options at receiver, with a litany of other receivers, including Jalen McGaughy, Noah Koenigsknect and Finn Hogan fighting for reps.
The running game has also experienced a steep decline in performance due to offensive line issues, with Lew Nichols at 469 yards and six touchdowns on 132 carries for 3.6 yards per game (over 1.6 yards per rush lower than his 2021 pace.) Myles Bailey (7.4 YPC) and Marion Lukes (9.9 YPC) have found more run, but they’re utilized differently as well, bouncing outside more.
The defense lost all but a handful of starters from their 2021 roster and it’s reflected in the statistics, as they’ve given up 25 opposing touchdowns (whereas most teams in their range are in the mid-teens) despite giving up 382.2 yards per game, which suggests a lot of miscommunication leading to big gains and scores for opponents.
Defensive end Thomas Incoom continues to lead the CMU defense as a highlight player, with 25 tackles, leading the Chips with nine tackles-for-loss and five sacks, clearing the second-place defender by 3.5 sacks in that statistic.
The defensive backfield quartet of Donte Kent (25 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and sack, seven pass break-ups, one forced fumble), Ronald Kent Jr. (27 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, five pass break-ups), De’Javion Stephney (21 tackles, five pass break-ups) and Trey Jones (36 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one interception, one pass break-up) are still gelling together after a shaky start, but did tighten up last week.
CMU has had some woeful kicking issues, with two placekickers combining to go 3-of-9. Josh Rolston picked up his first start last week, but is still fighting with the previous incumbent Marshall Meeder for reps after struggling vs. Ball State. Special teams coverage and return units have also been uneven, with several lost fumbles on muffed punts— but also exhibiting several nice returns by Jordyn Williams.
Getting to know the Zips
The Akron Zips continue to rebuild under first-year head coach Joe Moorhead, showing some brilliant flashes of potential even in some bad losses through the first six games of the 2022 season.
Their performances over the last two weeks have been especially telling, as the Zips have posted 28 and 34 points against BGSU and Ohio respectively. Down two scores against the Falcons, the defense held up long enough to get Akron one last possession to try and win the game before the offense ultimately faltered. The next week, Akron posted 478 yards of offense and scoring on all six of the redzone visits, looking like a team which had figured out how to move the ball down the field despite defensive struggles.
This team is already much better than last season— and even better than the first part of this season, currently sitting at 107th in total offense and 127th in total defense, both improvements from 2021. They only have one win to show for it, but they’ve been in position for at least two more wins, so they’re not a pushover by any stretch.
DJ Irons’ development has especially been encouraging, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,561 yards, six passing scores and three interceptions while also placing second on the rushing charts with 175 yards and a touchdown.
Where Akron has looked best offensively is at the skill positions, with a platoon of Power Five transfers making hay on a week-to-week basis. Pitt transfer Shocky Jacques-Louis leads all receivers with 37 catches for 509 yards and a touchdown, with Penn State transfer George Daniel right behind him for 36 catches and 364 yards as the favored possession receiver. LSU transfer Alex Adams has also come alive of late in the receiving game, with three touchdowns since the start of the conference season to go along with 23 receptions and 263 yards over the campaign.
Minnesota transfer Cam Wiley (178 yards, two rushing touchdowns; 15 catches, 71 yards) and Kansas State transfer Clyde Price III (122 yards, four rushing touchdowns; 14 catches, 59 yards, one receiving score) have manned the backfield effectively, proving to be a great duo after years of net-negative Akron running back play.
The defense is still a work in progress, however, which has taken Akron out of several games this season.
For all the changes on the roster, the ever-stalwart Bubba Arslanian once again leads the Zips defense from the heart of the defense, with 64 tackles already in six games. Wyoming transfer Victor Jones sets the edge, with 27 tackles, a team-leading six tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks, while fellow defensive lineman Antavious Fish, formerly of Florida State, has heated up in recent weeks, leading the team with two sacks. Four Zips hold an interception apiece, while 10 players split 11 pass break-ups.
Special teams have undertaken perhaps the biggest transformation, going from one of the worst to one of the best in the league in 2022. True freshman Noah Perez has take over kicking duties from upperclassman Cory Smigel, going 6-of-7 on field goals and 8-of-8 on extra points, while Sacred Heart transfer Noah Gettmann has averaged 41.7 yards per boot on 34 punts, with eight of those falling inside-the-20, and five going 50 yards or more.
What to Expect
This is an absolute must-win for Central Michigan. A loss on the road to a 1-5 Akron team on the mend would be the absolute nadir of the Jim McElwain era, and signal a team in danger of being in another rebuild stage a la the Bonamego era, which also experienced a similar bottoming-out in 2018 after two years of relatively safe play.
For Akron, a win over a dark horse contender CMU would show that their improvement is for real after close calls against Liberty and BGSU. Their game vs. Ohio showed that with some small improvements, this is a Zips team who could be a big danger to anyone who crosses their path.
There’s only two ways this game likely goes: a bare-knuckle brawl with a close score at the end or a contest which is decided by the halftime whistle. The middle path is a scary ground which could be damning in the evaluation of either side dependent on the result.
Both teams are vulnerable, and both teams are talented. It could go either way.