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2022 MAC Football Week 1 Game Preview: Akron Zips vs. St. Francis (PA) Red Flash

The Joe Moorhead era will kick off against an FCS side to try and show the Zips have turned over a new leaf in the offseason.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Kent State at Akron

The Akron Zips (2-10 in 2021) are an outfit going through a lot of changes right now, whether that’s because of the sheer number of departures and transfers or the new-look coaching staff, led by former Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

They’ll look to put down a proof of concept against the St. Francis (PA) Red Storm (5-6 in 2021), a decently competent FCS team who was a handful of results away from creating some intrigue in the Northeast Conference standings.

The FCS/FBS games are typically short of intrigue, but nothing has been guaranteed for this Zips team over the last four seasons, as they’ve found themselves scared by lower level opponents recently— including last season against Bryant.

A dominant effort against a fledgling program should (hopefully) put to rest any initial concerns about the state of the roster.


  • Time and Date: Thursday, September 1, 2022, at 6 p.m. Eastern time.
  • Network: ESPN3 (A valid cable subscription is required for viewing.)
  • Location: Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio
  • Spread/Total: N/A
  • All-time series: N/A

Getting to know the Red Flash

JD Cavrich - SFU Athletics

The Red Flash were an outfit which had a true back-and-forth season in 2021, starting 1-3 in non-conference play, with a brief sojourn to conference play against Wagner to put them at 2-3 going into the second half of the season.

They alternated wins and losses from there, with especially brutal losses to Bryant and Sacred Heart by one point apiece, and a season-ender to Central Connecticut by a field goal. When they were on, however, they were truly on, never losing by less than two possessions, with their closest margin of victory being 13 points against Morgan State.

This is all to say that the Red Flash are not a team to sleep on.

The Red Flash averaged about 22.9 points per game and 322.6 yards on offense, while allowing an average of 19.09 points per game in 2021 and 333.5 yards on defense, with a philosophy of keeping games close by running down the clock and winning the turnover battle.

Justin Sliwoski, who took over starting duties during the 2021 season, is the Red Flash quarterback. Sliwoski finished 90-of-139 for 1,165 yards and 12 touchdowns, with just one interception. His passer efficiency (162.2) ranked fifth amongst QBs in the FCS, making the fifth-year junior, who once sat in the same QB room at Pittsburgh as Kenny Pickett, an emphasis in the gameplan which unlocked the offense’s potential down the stretch.

The Red Flash also return their two top receivers in second-team all-NEC candidate Kahtero Summers (44 catches, 674 yards, nine touchdowns) and Brandan Lisenby (36 rec., 471 yards, three touchdowns.)

The offense, however, is built with the game-changing capabilities of running back Marques DeShields leading the way. DeShields is perhaps the best player on the roster, pulling down 767 yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries while also catching 20 balls for 228 yards and two touchdowns en route to first-team all-NEC honors in 2021.

SFU was one of the FCS’ best pass defense units in the country in 2021, and could be so once again in 2022, as they gave up just 2,005 total passing yards and 14 touchdowns through the air in 11 games. On the ground could be more troublesome, though, as they were merely an average unit (59th overall) in stopping the rush.

Leading the defense will be do-it-all FCS Freshman All-American linebacker Greg Reddick, who picked up 45 tackles, 10 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, two tackles for loss, and an interception in 2021. The pass rush will also additionally be helped by second-team all-NEC EDGE Donnell Brown, who had 46 total tackles, including 8.5 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, one forced fumble, six QB hits and four pass break-ups in his redshirt freshman campaign in 2021.

They’ll have to pick up the slack for a relatively young and unproven secondary, and could give Akron’s offensive line some fits as they try to develop chemistry after a major reshuffle of the line in the offseason.

Getting to know the Zips

Akron v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Zips are under new management once again, with former Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead set to take the reins in Akron, where he was once was an assistant on the last Zips squad to win the MAC title.

At current, Akron is a long way from that sort of performance, but that doesn’t mean the season will be short of intrigue.

There’s nowhere to go but up for the Zips, who were a bottom 30 team in most every possible category in 2021 (save for passing defense, where they finished 55th in the NCAA.) Akron gave up nearly 40 points per game last season, while also giving up 248.9 yards per game on the ground and 469 yards per game overall, numbers which should surely get improved in 2022 as the new roster both brings back some returnees with untapped potential and some transfers who could make immediate impacts.

The Zips receiving room gets a complete turnover after the departures of Michael Mathison (transfer to Western Kentucky) and Konata Mumphield (transfer to Pittsburgh), with former LSU four-star prospect Alex Adams and former Pitt Panther Shocky Jacques-Louis (83 reec, 1,010 yards, three touchdowns in four seasons) expected to draw the majority of the targets on the outside. A lot of depth options graduated as well, leaving a lot of reps to fight for amongst several underclassmen, including Tony Grimes Jr., Oran Singleton and Tim Scippio. Tight end Tristian Brank leads all returnees in receiving, with 25 rec., 269 yards and three scores.

All three halfback options return from the NCAA’s 103rd-best rushing offense, with Jonzell Norrils (118 rush, 573 carries, three scores) expected to once again take lead back duties. He’ll get a run for his money from Minnesota transfer Cam Wiley, who was one of the Golden Gophers’ best rushers in the 2020 COVID season. Blake Hester and Anthony Williams Jr. bring experience in the depth positions.

They’ll all be led by DJ Irons, a six-foot-six, 215 lb. junior quarterback who brings dual-threat potential to the position. He took starting duties from former incumbent starter Kato Nelson before suffering a season-ending injury, posting a promising statline of 892 passing yards for eight touchdowns and four interceptions, while also rushing 91 times for 296 yards and two touchdowns. If he develops into a reliable option under center, the Zips offense will certainly have plenty of room for growth.

Defensively, there are a number of returning starters to keep your eye on, including the linebacking duo of Bubba Arslanian and former Michigan State transfer Jeslord Boateng. Arslanian was once again on pace for a 100+ tackle season in 2021 before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the season just four games in, finishing with 43 total tackles. Boateng emerged last season as a reliable option, leading the team in tackles (80), tackles-for-loss (7.5) and sacks (1.5), and should once again be circled on the gameplans.

Charles Amankwaa and Ronald Jackson Jr. return in the secondary as well, sa they headed up a pleasantly surprising pass defense in 2021 (220.1 yards per game, 55th in NCAA.) Amankwaa was especially a playmaker, leading the team in pass break-ups (nine), interceptions (three) and forced fumbles (one) last season. Jackson was a steady cover presence as well, with 33 tackles in 12 games. They’ll be joined by Mississippi State transfer Cam Threatt.

Akron was aggressive in the transfer portal on the defensive side, and we could see as many as half-a-dozen or more contributors from other schools find time on the field in various roles, including Threatt, safety KJ Martin (West Virginia), EDGEs Curtis Harper (Syracuse) and Victor Jones (Wyoming), and defensive lineman Devon Robinson (Memphis via Mississippi State.)