Akron (1-4, 0-1 MAC East) travels to Ohio (2-3, 0-1 MAC East) to see who will get back to even on the conference slate. Both squads are coming off a close loss in the conference opener, a game either could have won had they had a play or two gone differently.
Such is life in the MAC.
The Zips lost to Bowling Green 31-28 on the backs of a 3-1 deficit in the turnover battle. Kent State trailed most of the game but came back to beat Ohio in overtime in a game where Ohio might have won if they were able to convert one play or two more offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
We take a look at how these teams stack up, but first some game notes:
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 8, 2022, at 2:00 PM Eastern
- Networks: ESPN 3 (subscription required)
- Radio/Streaming: Both teams can be heard via the Varsity Network App.
- Location: Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio
- Weather: Cloudy, 58 degrees. 6% chance of rain. Wind, WNW 7 MPH per Weather.com
- Spread/Total: Ohio is an 11 point favorite per OddsShark.com
- Last Meeting: October 2, 2021, Ohio 34, Akron 17
- Special Events: Homecoming
The Bobcats are also honoring former Bobcat head coach Bill Hess. One of the Bobcats’ all-time great coaches, Hess led Ohio to four MAC titles in the 1960s and a ‘small college’ national championship in 1960. Hess’s 108 wins are second only to Frank Solich’s 115 wins.
How we got here
A lot has changed since these teams met last October.
Akron travels to Ohio for the first time under the guidance of new head coach Joe Moorhead and his staff. Prior to Moorhead’s arrival, the Zips went 3-27 in the past three seasons.
However, Moorhead has a track record of getting programs back on schedule. The Fordham Rams were 1-10 in 2011 before Moorhead was named head coach, but he turned things around with the Rams finishing 38-13 over the next four years, with three FCS playoff appearances.
Although not yet reflected in the record due to some tough non-conference games, the Zips look to be an improved team with notable growth based on last week’s game against BGSU. For instance, the defensive front seven and special teams looked noticeably improved since last year.
Ohio features second-year coach head coach Tim Albin and new leadership on defense with defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky. Ohio has shown improvement over last year in the passing game and creating turmoil on defense and would match 2021’s win total (three) with a victory over the Zips with six games remaining.
Keys To The Contest
When Ohio is on Offense
Ohio has suffered a number of injuries to starters in every offensive position group this season except quarterback (though the backup QB was injured and is still out). These injuries may have prevented the ‘Cats from reaching their full potential so far, but quality depth coupled with the remaining starters still gives this crew a shot to be one of the better MAC offenses on any given week.
Ohio’s offense is typically a balanced attack and the ‘Cats stayed committed to the run last week despite multiple injuries in the running back room.
The Bobcats should get a healthier in this one on the offensive line with the reported return of right tackle Shedrick Rhodes Jr. The return of Rhodes Jr. would allow Ohio to shift versatile Hagen Meservy back to right guard. Couple Meservy’s return to the interior with six-foot-three, 330-pound left guard Kurt Danneker, and the Zips will have a challenge stopping Ohio’s inside running game.
In the BGSU game, the Zips’ defensive line looked clearly improved compared with its 2021 counterpoint, much more consistently executing its assignments. New defensive line starters like Victor Jones, Kyle Thomas, and Curtis Harper lead the charge with Wyoming Cowboy transfer Jones active with 23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a QB hurry and pass break-up on the season.
One thing to watch is how the Zips’ defensive interior holds up for four quarters against the run in this one, especially if they log a similar number of snaps as they did last week versus BGSU. The Bobcats feature one of the best guard duos in the MAC and how the interior may hold up in the second half will be a question.
One route the Bobcats may try to get some big hits in the running game is using “split zone” concepts. BGSU had some success running this concept and the Bobcats have personnel like big six-foot-six, 250 lbs. tight end Will Kacmarek who is fully capable of walling off the end of the defensive line to make the split zone go.
The Zips’ bigger problem may be containing the Bobcats passing game, which is much improved over 2021.
Ohio features QB Kurtis Rourke, who has put up some impressive numbers this year, at or near the top of the MAC passing categories completing 68% of his throws for 1,517 yards and 11 touchdowns versus only two interceptions.
The Bobcats have a number of weapons in the skill position groups and Rourke has spread the ball around in the passing game. Ohio comes in with receivers with at least 100 yards on the season with Ohio State transfer Sam Wiglusz leading the charge with 28 catches for 290 yards and three scores.
It will be interesting to see if Ohio finds favorable matchups in the redzone in the tight end group versus the Zips. As we wrote earlier this week, the Bobcats’ tight end group is on the rise and BGSU was able to hit two scores to the tight ends last week in the red zone.
When Akron is on Offense
The BGSU game last week leaves little doubt that priority one for Ohio’s defense is to shackle Akron’s QB DJ Irons. The Zips QB is an impressive dual-threat player who is the conduit of the offensive attack.
Irons is a dangerous run threat, whether by design or improvisation. The Zips regularly unleash Irons on designed runs which last week included concepts like QB power, draws, zone reads, etc. Irons’ style demands defensive discipline because he has no problem cutting backside to daylight which will gash over pursuing defenders.
Akron will also spread-out opponents in four or five wide receiver sets, giving Irons a clear view of where scramble opportunities may be if the pass isn't there.
The Zips were effective last week in establishing Irons as a running threat and using that threat to make the passing game work like on a red zone play where an Irons’ running threat sucked up the defense for an easy TD pass.
Complementing Irons in the passing game is a trio of wideouts on the rise led by Pitt transfer Shocky Jacques-Louis. The former Panther leads the Zips with 26 catches for 357 yards. The Zips also feature two up-and-coming wideouts in Daniel George and LSU transfer Alex Adams, who have combined for 41 catches for 463 yards and three scores.
If Akron can force Ohio to devote substantial resources to containing Irons and the running game, the Zips may find some explosive plays in the passing game as Ohio has surrendered 901 yards passing over the past two weeks.
If Ohio can contain Irons, one significant defensive advantage may be splash plays on pass rush.
While Ohio logged a modest four sacks in the past two weeks, those number don’t reflect how difficult the Bobcat’s front seven has been to control at times over that span. For instance, based on an absolute glut of holding penalties over the past few weeks, it is clear the active Bobcat front seven is difficult to control at times.
The challenge for the Zips will be to beat back that Bobcat rush. The task won’t be easy as the Akron passing game leads the MAC in sacks allowed with 26, which is twice the amount that Ohio has allowed.
If the game is close, special teams may be the difference as both squads have some threats.
Last week, Akron had some big kickoff returns as Jacques-Louis had an 88-yard return and Blake Hester turned in a 37-yarder. Their placekicker and punter positions have also much improved, with Noah Perez 4-of-5 on field goals and Noah Gettmann averaging over 43 yards per punt.
Ohio has hit some big kick returns this year as well, with WR Keegan Wilburn and company hitting returns of 98 and 50 yards for scores.
The Bobcats also have had some clutch performers so far on the season in the kicking game with kickers Nathanial Vakos and Tristian Vandenberg each garnering a MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week award.
Vakos kicks field goals and XPs and is perfect on the season in both categories going 6-of-6 and 16-of-16 respectively. Vandenberg focuses on creating field position on kickoffs.
Akron is a better team than Ohio has faced in the last three season and could win if everything falls in line like turnovers and special teams plays.
That being said, Ohio is eleven-point favorites for a reason, with the best unit on the field being the Bobcat’s offense. Ohio’s offense should do enough, especially as the game wears on, to win the game. There is a chance too that Ohio’s defense will contribute some big plays resulting in sacks or turnovers with the matchup between Ohio’s front seven and Akron’s maturing offensive line.
Ohio 38, Akron 27.