One step forward, two steps back.
That’s what progress can look like sometimes when you’re a team trying to build from the bottom, and that’s what happened for the Akron Zips (0-2) today, as they took a tough 52-0 loss on the road to the Michigan State Spartans (2-0) this afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Zips, they lost much more than the game; DJ Irons, their starting quarterback, left the game on a cart and was checked out at a local hospital for a leg injury, likely taking him out for a good amount of the season.
It was a rough day all around for Akron, who suffered a fumble on their first drive of the day, ending a promising eight-play, 55-yard drive over the first four minutes of the game. The fumble would be converted into points for Michigan State on a Jarek Broussard one-yard touchdown run to cap off a six-play, 59-yard drive of their own to open up the scoring books.
It was deja vu all over again on the next drive, as a second Akron fumble resulted in a turnover which ended in another one-yard rushing touchdown, this time from Jalen Berger, to double the Spartans lead at 14-0 with 2:26 remaining in the first quarter.
The game slowed down from there as both defenses settled in, and the Zips even managed to force a turnover-on-downs in a fourth-and-one situation on the MSU 46 with 6:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Alas, this Akron drive too would end in a fumble, as Jonzell Norrils fumbled after picking up a first down in MSU territory, with the revelatory UNLV transfer Jacoby Windman scooping up the ball. Jalen Berger would convert once again from one-yard out to put the score at 21-0 with 2:16 to go in the first half.
Akron went three-and-out on the next drive, and MSU would exchange it for a field goal to end the half to make it 24-0 at the break.
The Zips finally made some luck for themselves in the opening part of the third quarter, as Bubba Arlsanian and Bryce Wilson got pressure on Payton Thorne, who then threw a ball which was intercepted by Jalen Hooks, granting Akron new life.
The brief feeling of ecstasy disappeared on the very next play, as backup quarterback Jeff Undercuffler Jr., standing in place of the injured DJ Irons, was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, ultimately fumbling the ball, which was recovered at the Akron 20-yard line.
It was elementary from there, as backup QB Noah Kim found Tre Mosley 16 yards downfield for a score just two plays later to make it 31-0 int he early third quarter, and the Spartans would go relatively unchallenged as they added 21 more points to the total over the remainder of the clock.
DJ Irons exited the game 9-of-13 for 123 yards through the air, with seven carries for 30 yards for Akron. Jeff Undercuffler Jr., formerly of UAlbany, played in relief, going 11-of-22 for 80 yards, while taking five sacks.
Cam Wiley struggled to get going on the ground, with 30 yards on 10 carries, while Daniel George (four catches for 44 yards) led the way for Zips receivers. Shocky Jacques-Louis (three catches, 31 yards) and tight end TJ Banks (four receptions, 29 yards) were also contributors in the receiving game.
Former Michigan State linebacker Jeslord Boateng had a decent revenge game, picking up eight tackles and one tackle-for-loss to pace the Zips. Darrian Lewis also had eight tackles, while Jalen Hooks and Zack Morton each had an interception. Victor Jones also continued a torrid pace of play, with five tackles and two tackles-for-loss on the day.
Noah Gettman had a busy day, getting his number called nine times and punting for 392 yards (43.6 net yards), including three boots inside-the-20 and a long kick of 58 yards. Corey Smigel had one attempt, a miss, from 49 yards out in the fourth quarter.
For Michigan State, Payton Thorne finished 18-of-28 for 212 yards and two interceptions on the day, but he wasn’t needed for much on this night. Noah Kim finished 2-of-2 for 22 yards and a touchdown in relief.
Jalen Berger (17 rushes, 107 yards, three scores) and Jarek Broussard (15 rushes, 81 yards, two scores) led the offensive attack over much of the day, with fellow rusher Elijah Collins (eight rushes, 57 yards) also lending a score late. Jayden Reed led all receivers with six receptions for 76 yards, with no other receiver gathering more than two catches and 36 yards.
Ameer Speed, a Georgia transfer, led all tacklers with nine total stops, and also picked up a tackle-for-loss. Jacoby Windmon continues an unbelievable 2022 campaign after transferring in from UNLV, with five tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles (out of five total for the Spartans), a fumble recovery and a pass break-up. Chester Kimbrough and Cal Haladay each had a tackle-for-loss and a sack, with Haladay also forcing and recovering a fumble. Charles Brantley had three pass break-ups.
Bryce Baringer punted three times for 156 net yards, including a long of 66, while placekicker Jack Stone was 1-of-1 on field goals and perfect on seven PAT’s.
Akron will have to lick their wounds quickly, as they’re set to play a ranked Tennessee squad in Neyland Stadium next Saturday night. Michigan State, meanwhile, will travel cross-country to play the Washington Huskies for a West Coast afternoon kickoff next Saturday.