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2023 MAC Football Week 1 Game Preview: Akron Zips at Temple Owls

Akron starts the season on the road, taking on former conference mate Temple.

Cincinnati v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The last four years have been brutal for the Zips, but Joe Moorhead’s squad will be eager to set a positive tone for the 2023 season when they take on Temple in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

The out-of-conference matchup between Akron and Temple will be the seventh meeting between the two schools since 2007. The Owls have won each one including a 45-24 victory on the road in the Rubber City in 2021. Because the last matchup was just two years ago, there will be some familiar faces on the opposite sideline for each team. Notably, that game was just the second career appearance for Akron QB DJ Irons, who threw a touchdown and ran for one in the loss.

Both teams are coming off tough 2022 seasons — Akron went 2-10 and Temple 3-9. They’re each going to be hungry to get things started on the right foot in Week 1 in Philly.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, September 2 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time
  • Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
  • Location: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Spread and over/under: Temple is favored by 10 points, with an O/U of 56.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: Temple leads 15-7 in 22 contests.
  • Last meeting: Temple 45, Akron 24 on September 11, 2021
  • Current streak: Temple,6 (2007-present)

Getting to know the Zips

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 08 Eastern Michigan at Akron Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As mentioned previously, it’s been rough sledding for Akron since Terry Bowden’s tenure ended in 2018 when the team went 4-8 The program didn’t exactly bounce back with the hiring of Tom Arth in 2019 as his teams went 3-24 while he was at the helm including an 0-12 season in 2019. Joe Moorhead, whose most recent head coaching gig was at Mississippi State, did not find immediate success in his first year at Akron in 2022, but the 1-10 record against FBS opponents doesn’t represent the competitive nature of some of the games. Six of those losses were by single digits and five of them by one score.

This season will be pivotal for Joe Moorhead’s career in Akron. If he can get his team to perform just a notch above last year, they could win 5 or 6 games and start to trend upward. A win at Temple would do wonders for the Zips’ outlook on the rest of their season.

Redshirt senior DJ Irons will be the man under center for Akron to open the season. He appeared in ten games last season throwing for 2,606 yards, ten touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was also the Zips second leading rusher with 314 yards on the year. Irons will be looking to be one of the most productive QBs in the MAC this year and this game against Temple could be an opportunity for him to start off hot.

Irons is elusive in the pocket which is a great quality to have against Temple’s strong pass defense. Irons will have his #2 and #3 receivers from last year to throw to — Alex Adams and Daniel George. Adams had 856 yards and nine of the Zips’ 15 receiving touchdowns in 11 games last year. Expect Adams and George — who racked up 793 yards of his own last year — to be a problem for Temple’s defensive backs.

Other pass catchers like tight end TJ Banks and receivers Dakota Thomas and Myles Walker will likely get some action in Philly as well.

There is a bit more uncertainty with Akron’s running game. The team’s third leading rusher in 2022, Clyde Price III returns and can be expected to be involved in Akron’s offense early on. Joe Moorhead also added two Power 5 transfers in Drake Anderson (Arizona) and Lorenzo Lingard Jr. (Florida). Those two may see some carries in the opener against Temple as well. This game will be a good opportunity for Moorhead to see what he has in his running back room.

The offensive line which struggled at times last year and was particularly poor at creating holes on running plays, will have a number of new faces this year. Whether they are able to take advantage of Temple’s poor run stopping ability could be a major difference in this game.

Like Akron’s offense, there are plenty of questions about its offense. The team lost it’s two most impactful linemen was well as the team’s leading tackler Bubba Arslanian from the linebacker group. The Zips will need some new guys from the front six to step up to improve at defending the run and generating a pass rush. The team allowed 162.4 yards per game on the ground last year and only had 19 sacks.

Akron returns its two starting corners from last year, Darrian Lewis and Tyson Durant, as well as its two main free safeties, KJ Martin and Nate Thompson. Look for those guys to make plays for the Zips on defense when they take on the Owls.

Getting to know the Owls

NCAA Football: Temple at Houston Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

The Owls are in a similar spot to the Zips in regards to their program trajectory. They finished with just one conference win last year under a first year head coach and are trying to return to the level of football they were playing in the late 2010s.

Temple’s offensive strength lies in its passing game. Differently, Temple’s defensive strength is in its pass rush. Head coach Stan Drayton will try to make the most out of those strengths to get his program turned around.

Temple’s offense will certainly revolve around sophomore quarterback EJ Warner — NFL legend Kurt Warner’s son. Warner threw for over 3,000 yards last year and 18 touchdowns in the down 2022 year for Temple. The Owls lost their top receiver from last year but return the second leading receiver, Amad Anderson. Colorado State transfer wide receiver Dante Wright hasn’t played since 2021 but could make some plays Saturday. He had 1,671 yards over 24 games as a Ram and should be an option in Temple’s pass-first offense. Tight ends David Martin-Anderson and Jordan Smith will also likely get involved.

Stan Drayton — a long time running backs coach before his arrival at Temple — will center the running game around Edward Saydee who rushed for over 639 yards last year. The Temple offensive line, which wasn’t particularly good at run-blocking last year, has an opportunity to take advantage of Akron’s inexperienced front seven to make some holes for Saydee.

The Temple defense is prepared to defend the pass which should make for a very interesting matchup with Akron’s solid passing game. The line should be able to generate pressure with help from a talented linebacker group that includes Jordan Magee, Layton Jordan and Yvandy Rigby who combined for 15.5 sacks and 33 tackles for loss last year. Blitz packages featuring those names could make life tough for DJ Irons Saturday.

The defensive back unit wasn’t amazing last year but Temple is returning most of its key guys and should be able to benefit from the pressure created by the men in front of them.

Temple’s run defense was very poor last year allowing 192.6 yards per game. Expect most of the big plays by the Owls defense to be made on passing plays.

Game outlook

The success of each team’s passing games will be the difference in this game. While both teams have weak rushing defenses, Joe Moorhead and Stan Drayton will still likely turn to their proven QB’s and receiving corps to carry most of the load on offense.

EJ Warner should be able to have time in the pocket due to a weak Akron pass rush and throw for something around 300 yards. Some carelessness with the ball from Warner could come into play, especially because Akron’s strength on defense is the defensive backs. If Warner doesn’t turn the ball over, it will be hard for the Zips to win this one.

DJ Irons has the opportunity to lead Akron to an upset win but dealing with Temple’s pass pressure will be a challenge. Whether he is able to improvise can be make the difference for the Zips on important drives Saturday. Irons has gotten banged up and missed some time at points during his first two years of action in Akron and taking some hits from the Owls’ vicious pass rush could leave him hurting towards the end of the contest. For the Zips to make the most of their passing game, they’ll likely need more help from their rushing attack than Temple does from theirs.

Some big offensive plays from DJ Irons and an interception or two on defense will keep Akron in the game, but the Owls will pull this one out at home behind a four touchdown performance from EJ Warner.

Prediction: Temple 34, Akron 28