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2023 MAC Football Week 12 Game Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Akron Zips

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 14 Kent State at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Akron Zips (2-8, 1-5 MAC) travels to Ypsilanti, Michigan to take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles (4-6, 2-4 MAC) on Tuesday night as the college football regular season starts to wind down.

For the Zips, this game is all about getting some positive momentum for next year. For the Eagles, they can keep their bowl hopes alive with a win.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Tuesday November 14 at 7:00 PM
  • Network: CBS Sports Network
  • Location: Rynearson Stadium — Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • Gambling considerations: Eastern Michigan are 4.5-point favorites, with an over/under of 39, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series and streak: Akron leads 19-15, with the Eagles winning the last three contests (dating back to 2018.)
  • Last meeting: Eastern Michigan took a hard-fought 34-28 win over Akron on Nov. 8, 2022.

Akron Zips outlook

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Buffalo at Akron Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Akron started the year hoping to improve on their two win total last year and maybe even get bowl eligibility, but not much has gone right for Joe Moorhead’s squad in 2023. A couple of close losses early in the year hurt, and losing quarterback DJ Irons for the season in their first conference game officially sank the Zips season.

Despite such luck, they’re still in a good position to win this game. Good, consistent play from their quarterback Jeff Undercuffler Jr. will be vital to their success in this contest; Undercuffler’s thrown for just over 1,000 yards on the year, completing 60 percent of his passes— but has thrown eight interceptions compared to just four touchdowns. When he’s on, he’s an excellent net positive, as he showed against Kent State when he threw for 298 yards and had three total touchdowns. A repeat performance here against a vulnerable EMU defense would do wonders.

Receiver Daniel George continues to be a consistent option in Akron’s offense for the second straight year. Jasiah Gathings has only emerged this year as a playmaker, tied with George in total catches with 43 while leading the team in yards with 452.

Akron’s rushing attack was virtually non-existent earlier in the year, but running back Lorenzo Lingard has surfaced as a serviceable back for the Zips. He got shut down last week against Miami as the team got shut out but he’s got 541 yards on the ground and 299 receiving on the year.

Akron’s defense has been very up-and-down this year. They’ve had two awful games — 55 points allowed to Northern Illinois and 41 allowed to Bowling Green — but outside of that, they’ve been solid. They’re middle of the road in the conference in most defensive categories and can turn it on when they’re playing with confidence.

The Zips have plenty of defensive leadership in the linebacker unit in leading tacklers Bryan McCoy and Antavious Fish. Defensive end CJ Nunnally, who was playing out his “Last Chance” at Independence Community College a year ago, has become one of the best pass rushers in the MAC in 2023, leading Akron with seven sacks.

Eastern Michigan Eagles outlook

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 UMass at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As mentioned previously, the Eagles have had one of the most disappointing years of any MAC team. Some picked them to be right up there with Toledo in the MAC West, but by the time November rolled around, those teams couldn’t be further apart — the Rockets 49-23 crushing of EMU last week showed that. At this point, Chris Creighton’s squad can only hope to qualify for bowl eligibility with a pair of wins to end the season.

The air attack has been a big reason Eastern Michigan has struggled this year. Quarterback Austin Smith has 1,420 yards on a 55 percent completion clip and has seven touchdowns and seven picks. He’s coming off a game where he looked very overwhelmed by Toledo, as he went just 9-of-24 with 86 yards and an interception.

Akron should be a better matchup for Smith, but he’ll need receivers to get open too. No Eagle receiver has 400 yards this year and Tanner Knue is the only man with 40 catches.

The running back tandem of Jaylon Jackson and Samson Evans has been serviceable this year, as each have over 400 yards, but neither have been dominant. Establishing the run will be important for EMU against a defense that has turned in some tough performances against the run this year.

Defensively, Eastern Michigan has had some issues, particularly in the run game. They’re currently allowing 189.2 yards per game on the ground which is dead last in the MAC. Akron isn’t the most threatening opponent in that area, so the Eagles can keep it well below that mark.

The EMU pass defense has shown some good flashes this year with cornerback Kempton Shine being the star in that area. Fellow cornerback Cameron Smith had his first career interception last week and also shows some promise.

Game outlook

A win for Akron, wouldn’t make too much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it could give the program a boost as they head into 2024. A victory might also make the university feel a bit better about Joe Moorhead being the man to lead the program going forward.

Eastern Michigan still has something to play for as they sit two wins away from bowl eligibility and should consider this game and next week’s road contest at Buffalo very winnable. Expect the Eagles to grind out a low-scoring win in a defensive battle to keep their bowl hopes alive.

Prediction: Eastern Michigan 20, Akron 14