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2023 MAC Football Week 13 Game Preview: Ohio Bobcats at Akron Zips

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at Ohio Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror and discount shopping done early, why not take a load off and enjoy some MACtion?

This regular season finale pits the Ohio Bobcats (8-3, 5-2 MAC) against the Akron Zips (2-9, 1-6 MAC) in this MAC East showdown. Last year’s affair featured 89 points and 1,039 total yards, but this year’s matchup figures to be much more of a defensive-oriented battle if the 2023 trends hold.

Let’s take a look at what to keep an eye on heading into this one.


Game notes

  • Time and date: Friday November 24th at 12 p.m. Eastern
  • Network: CBS Sports Network (A valid cable subscription is required for viewing.)
  • Location: Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio
  • Gambling considerations: Ohio is favored by 14 with an over/under of 41.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series and streak: Ohio has a comfortable 24-14-1 all-time lead, with the Bobcats dominating recent play by winning 14 of the last 15 meetings.
  • Last Time: Ohio triumphed in a 55-34 in a track meet on October 8, 2022, with QBs DJ Irons and Kurtis Rourke combining for 845 yards passing.

About the Akron Zips

NCAA Football: Akron at Kentucky
Akron’s CJ Nunnally IV against Kentucky earlier this year
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The Zips come into this one looking to finish on a positive note while continuing to identify the building blocks for the 2024 season in order to rise in the standings. Akron is in the top half of defensive units overall in the MAC this year, as evidenced by ranking fifth with 330 yards allowed per contest.

Their best unit so far has been the defense, which has kept Akron competitive in most MAC games this year— except for the 55-14 loss to NIU where it had trouble stopping explosive plays in the running game.

The Zips have found some key players on the defensive side of the ball this year to build on, including JUCO CJ Nunnally IV, who has played at an all-MAC level so far in 2023. Nunnally ranks second in the MAC in tackles-for-loss with 14, fourth in sacks with seven and also has 58 total stops. Sophomore linebacker Brian McCoy figures to be a big part of the future plans leading the club with 94 stops.

Offensively, however, the Zips have struggled to find consistency this year, managing just 16.5 points per game which is second last in the MAC. The points problem has been compounded by a ball security issue with 20 turnovers.

Akron will have a challenge battling Ohio’s front seven who ranks first in rushing yards allowed with only 3.4 per carry while the Zips are only rushing for a shade under 3.0 yards per carry this year as it is. Also, Akron has allowed the most sacks in the league this year so far with 42, while Ohio has one of the MAC’s most disruptive units ranking fourth in sacks with 27.

The Zips game plan will revolve around its dual quarterback approach with Jeff Undercuffler Jr. coming in primarily in passing situations, while Tahj Bullock offers a running threat at this point. On the season, Undercuffler has completed about 62 percent of his throws for 1,275 yards and a 4:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Bullock will mix things up and is third on the club this year with 134 yards rushing, though he did pick up a nice passing touchdown in his most recent outing.

The Zips boast a couple of playmakers on the outside in wideouts Daniel George and Jasaiah Gathings, who have combined for 98 catches and over 1,000 yards this year. If the Zips are competitive in this one, figure these two to be heavily in the mix.

Also key to the Zips’ success here is the play of versatile running back Lorenzo Lindgard, who has been a factor with 926 combined yards from scrimmage, including 33 receptions. Lingard might not find regular running room on the ground against a stout ‘Cats rushing defense, but an explosive play or two could go a long way to keeping things close.


About the Ohio Bobcats

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Ohio
Linebacker Bryce Houston reflects after a win this year versus Iowa State
Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

Akron should find it tough sledding to move or score with consistency against a Bobcat unit which ranks fifth nationally in total defense with 271 yards allowed per game and sixth in scoring defense with 15.5 points allowed per game.

Over the course of the season, several leaders at all levels have emerged to create a very effective team defense. Defensive tackle Rayyan Buell has had a breakout campaign in 2023, ranking third in the MAC with 11.5 tackles for loss and tied for eighth with 4.5 sacks.

The linebacking duo of Keye Thompson and Bryce Houston have dominated the competition, combining for 204 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, three passes defensed, three fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown.

The back end of the defense had some breakdowns which yielded a few explosive plays last week, but on the season has been very effective especially given the Bobcats’ commitment to stopping the run and some injuries. Senior leadership has been key to the effort, with safety Walter Reynolds third on the squad behind Thompson and Houston with 57 tackles while cornerback Justin Birchette has led the charge in pass defense with eight pass breakups.

Offensively, the Bobcats will try to mix the run and pass, and have found some success on the ground recently as running back Sieh Bangura was selected the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week for his effort against CMU last week with 126 yards and 6.0 yards per carry.

The Zips can also figure to see running back O’Shaan Allison in the mix in short running situations. He also had a special day last week with two touchdowns.

The offense as a whole is led by quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who comes into this contest needing only 15 yards to pass his brother Nathan Rourke for second all-time in passing yards in Ohio history.

Rourke will find and take what the Zips give him in the passing game, with several established targets. The ‘Cats have three main targets in wideouts Sam Wiglusz, Tyler Walton, and Miles Cross, all of whom have had 35 or more catches this year.

The Bobcats also incorporate their tight ends in the passing game led by Tyler Foster and Will Kacmarek, who have combined for 36 catches, 408 yards, and two scores.


Prediction

The Zips have shown a lot of integrity, continuing to battle hard despite the overall 2-9 record.

However, unless Ohio’s offense and/or special teams have some frequent lapses affording the Zips field position or big plays it’s difficult to see how the Akron offense would regularly move the ball against one of the Group of Five’s better defenses.

Look for Ohio to win and cover the spread of 14 points.