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2022 Week 9 Preview: Miami (OH) RedHawks @ Akron Zips

Brett Gabbert looks to get Miami’s offense going against an Akron team hoping to snap a 7-game skid.

Akron v Miami Ohio Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, October 29 at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: InfoCision Stadium — Akron, OH
  • Spread: Miami (OH) (-8.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Miami (OH) has 68.0% chance to win
  • All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 21-9-1
  • Last meeting: Miami (OH) 34, Akron 21 — October 16, 2021
  • Current streak: Miami (OH), 5 (2017-21)

Setting the scene

Brett Gabbert is back! The All-MAC quarterback missed six consecutive games before returning to the lineup for Miami (OH) last Saturday. The former MAC champion now looks to get up to speed against an Akron defense which ranks fourth-to-last in points allowed per game. Head coach Chuck Martin’s team has dropped two consecutive matchups, but unlike Akron, Miami remains in contention for bowl eligibility if it can win three of its final four.

This also becomes an intriguing quarterback matchup with the presence of DJ Irons. Working under first-year head coach Joe Moorhead, the Zips’ quarterback has been no stranger to explosive performances in MAC play. Now, Akron hopes its more exciting brand of offense can translate to the win column as it looks to snap its 7-game skid against the RedHawks.

Miami RedHawks outlook

The good news, as mentioned earlier, is quarterback Brett Gabbert is back after missing six games for Miami. In the RedHawks’ last two full seasons, Gabbert led them to a MAC championship in 2019 and a bowl victory in 2021, totaling two 400-yard games and 26 touchdowns to only six interceptions in the latter season.

The bad news is Miami lost to a struggling Western Michigan squad at home and only mustered up 10 points in the Gabbert’s return. Establishing consistency on offense has been a recurring issue for Miami this season — even in wins — and the RedHawks rank 119th nationally with 18.5 points per game.

Now that the cobwebs have been shaken off, a revitalized Gabbert will look to elevate a previously dormant passing attack which collects 145 yards per contest. In both starts this year, he has eclipsed the mark and he’ll look to revert the degree of verticality this offense enjoyed last fall. The greatest benefactors of Gabbert’s return are Mac Hippenhammer and Miles Marshall. The former Big Ten transfer receivers are established downfield threats, and both receivers had their two highest catch totals this season in the two games Gabbert operated under center.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Cincinnati vs Miami (OH)
Miami (OH) WR Mac Hippenhammer leads the team with 360 receiving yards on 29 receptions this year. Hippenhammer has been the recipient of more than half of the RedHawks’ passing touchdowns.

Miami’s offense will certainly shift its paradigm with its gunslinger back in the lineup, as shown last week. The RedHawks kept the ball grounded and utilized more designed quarterback runs when Aveon Smith played in relief of Gabbert. The running game will still remain important, however, as the inability to ignite this aspect of the game played a major factor in the RedHawks’ 10-point outing last Saturday. Keyon Mozee and Tyre Shelton are handling the bulk of carries for now, and facing the 115th-ranked run defense could play in their advantage.

Winning and losing is primarily dictated by the offense, because Miami’s defense doesn’t take a week off. The RedHawks have not allowed more than 24 points in their last five outings, and they’ve fared 2-3 in that span — losing their last two contests 17-13 and 16-10. Miami is incredibly stout against the run, stifling opponents to 111 yards per game for the 20th best mark in the nation and best in the MAC. The trio of Ryan McWood, Matthew Salopek, and Michael Dowell has been sensational in handling running backs this year, combining for 13 tackles for loss as the three leading tacklers on the unit.

Miami’s secondary has strung together solid performances, but this is the unit which must be on its toes when facing Akron. The Zips have demonstrated the ability to air it out for over 300 yards several times this year, so John Saunders Jr., Eli Blakey, and company must be prepared for Akron’s verticality. The secondary forces a sub-60 completion rate and has held consecutive MAC quarterbacks below 150 passing yards, so the RedHawks should provide some resistance in that area as well.

Akron Zips outlook

Unfortunately for Akron, the 2022 season will only be limited to 12 games. The Zips are one of two FBS teams, along with Charlotte, eliminated from bowl eligibility after falling six points short to Kent State in a rivalry game last Saturday.

Akron joins UMass and Army as the only teams in the country still in search of its first FBS win. But even with the lack of tangible success, there have been noticeable in-season improvements for Joe Moorhead’s young squad.

Quarterback DJ Irons is becoming one of the most electrifying players in the MAC. For the second time in three games, Irons broke the 380-yard threshold as a passer, and in both of those showings, Irons demonstrated accuracy by completing over 74 of his attempts. Irons opened up the Kent State game with an 80-yard bomb to Alex Adams, and his ability to sling it downfield allows Akron’s offense to score on a moment’s notice regardless of field position. After years of struggling with aerial offense, Akron ranks 26th in the FBS in passing yards per game, and Irons is second in the MAC in this category, benefitting from talented receivers at his disposal such as Adams, Daniel George, and Shocky Jacques-Louis.

The 6’6” quarterback also has a dual-threat nature to his game. Akron runs a lot of empty sets in Moorhead’s offense, and Irons is a proven aficionado at QB draws. He took one 53 yards to the house against Central Michigan and has four rushing touchdowns in his past three games, and he ranks first on the team in rushing yards.

Irons’ status as the Zips’ leading rusher may come as a surprise due to how abysmal Akron has been at pass protection. Akron is last in the country when it comes to surrendering sacks with an average yield of 5.4, which is more than one sack separated from the next closest team. Even in the midst of Irons’ hot streak, the offensive line has not kept him out of harm’s way. Irons has absorbed seven sacks in back-to-back contests, and when facing a potent Miami front seven, providing Irons ample time to read through his progressions becomes even more of a concern.

NCAA Football: Akron at Tennessee
Akron QB DJ Irons is averaging 320 passing yards per game in MAC play. Irons is also completing over 71 percent of his passes against conference opponents this season.
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not only Akron’s offensive line which needs rendering, but the defensive line needs to play a larger part in generating a pass rush. The Zips amassed zero sacks in the prior week against Kent State, and they’ll need to bolster that pressure in order to improve their defensive stature. However, there is one defender donning an Akron uniform that becomes a focal point in film study for every opponent, and that’s Bubba Arslanian. The inside linebacker leads the team with 86 tackles (fifth highest in FBS) and eight tackles for loss.

Akron’s 104th-ranked passing defense should be the most tested position group due to Gabbert’s presence in the lineup, so the Zips must play a sound game there in order to snap their streak. They recently returned cornerback Charles Amankwaa, who recorded three interceptions and deflected nine passes in 2021, so his availability could amend some of the team’s struggles there.


Akron may be 1-7, but the DJ Irons-led offense hasn’t gone down without a fight in MAC play this year. The Zips have scored three or more touchdowns in all four league games, and their ability to explode downfield makes them difficult to contain at times. However, Akron does not field an established running game and the Zips have the most statistically permeable offensive line in the country, and those qualities limit the scoring output at times.

Miami’s offense hasn’t been stellar this year, but Brett Gabbert will produce numbers in the passing game that the RedHawks didn’t see for the bulk of this season. With increased involvement of Miami’s talented receivers, the RedHawks should experience one of their more productive offensive outings of the year, although the effectiveness of the run game remains volatile.

In the end, the difference in this game comes down to the trenches, and Miami’s front seven should have no problems stifling Akron on the ground and penetrating the backfield early and often.

Prediction: Miami (OH) 31, Akron 24