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2023 MAC Football Week 3 Game Preview: Akron Zips at Kentucky Wildcats

The Zips and Wildcats look to correct poor performances against one another.

Syndication: The Courier-Journal Matt Stone/Louisville Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Akron (1-1) and Kentucky (2-0) will both be looking to play a much higher level of football when they face each other this week after they each put up unimpressive performances against FCS schools last week. The nationally-televised night game in Lexington will likely bring the most energetic atmosphere either team has played in this season up to this point.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, September 16 at 7:30 PM Eastern time
  • Network: ESPNU (A valid cable subscription is required)
  • Location: Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky
  • Gambling considerations: Kentucky is a 25-point favorite with an over/under of 49.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: Kentucky 1-0
  • Last meeting: Kentucky 47, Akron 10 on Sept. 18, 2010

Akron outlook

NCAA Football: Akron at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

It took a total miracle for Akron to squeak by Morgan State at home last week. If it wasn’t for a game-saving scoop and score with a minute left in the fourth, Akron would be 0-2 and likely in the bottom five of Steve Helwick’s ranking of all 133 FBS teams this week. Instead, the Zips forced a fumble and returned it to the house to essentially come back from the dead and steal a win. While the finish of that game was definitely goosebump-inducing, you eventually have to come to terms with how poor the Zips played for 59 minutes. To have any shot against Kentucky, they’ll have to be a much different version of themselves.

Akron’s offense, which was poised to have a nice passing game this year, has a lot of questions surrounding it right now. DJ Irons, who has been a good offensive producer for Akron over the last couple years, was mysteriously subbed out of the Morgan State game in the second quarter. There was no obvious injury before Jeff Undercuffler Jr. replaced him, and his 7-of-9 passing statline wouldn’t lead you to think it was performance related.

If Irons is available, he will look to establish some consistency completing shorter passes. In his one full game against Temple, he successfully tossed the ball downfield for a couple of big gainers but struggled to string together shorter completions to sustain longer drives.

If Undercuffler is under center for Akron on Saturday, he’ll be aiming for a much better performance than the night he had against Morgan State. He was 18-of-25 with 209 yards against the Bears but didn’t look sharp during much of the contest, especially late. His footwork looked shaky as he threw three interceptions, including one with just over a minute left in the game. Undercuffler is a college football veteran at this point, having thrown for over 7,000 yards between FCS Albany and Akron. The Zips faithful will be hoping he looks more comfortable against Kentucky than he did against Morgan State.

As for Akron’s receivers, Alex Adams and Jasiah Gathings specifically looked in rhythm when Undercuffler was able to put the ball in a catchable area. Look for those two to test the Cats’ defensive backs on Saturday.

Believe it or not, the running game is even worse than the passing situation right now. The Zips finished with eight yards as a team against Morgan State (though it would have been closer to 50 without sack yardage negating much of it.) The two main running backs, Lorenzo Lingard and Drake Anderson, were unable to make much happen. The 13 combined carries for those two also suggest Moorhead is not feeling good about his ground attack in general.

The one thing Akron has going for them is the defense. The Zips allowed three touchdowns to a good Temple offense in Week 1 and three more to Morgan State but under different circumstances. Two of Morgan State’s drives were 31 yards or less due to interceptions giving the Bears good field position. Akron also created a number of game changing plays in that game including a Devonte Golden-Nelson pick-six and the game winning scoop-and-score by Bryan McCoy.

Akron could really use a couple of interceptions against the Kentucky passing game that is seeing QB Devin Leary heat up. The Zips defense has been really good against the run so far and can provide a good challenge for Kentucky running back Ray Davis who is averaging over six yards per carry this year.

Kentucky outlook

NCAA Football: Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky cruised to a victory in Week 1 over Ball State but didn’t look as sharp against FCS Eastern Kentucky in Week 2. Mark Stoops’ squad will be looking to replicate that Ball State game against another MAC opponent.

The Wildcats offense is led by North Carolina State transfer Devin Leary at quarterback. Leary had a 3,000 yard season for the Wolfpack in 2021 before playing just half a season last year due to injury. He’s looking to have a big season for Kentucky as an experienced fifth year senior.

Leary didn’t have a huge game against Ball State but did enough to lead his team down the field for several drives resulting in scores. He made a few more plays against Eastern Kentucky, finishing that game with 299 yards and four touchdowns. Leary has an interception in each game and will need to be wary of an Akron defense that wants a reason to bring out the Turnover Tire. The Wildcats have a big three of receivers going right now in Tayvion Robinson, Dane Key and Barion Brown who each have nine catches and 402 combined yards across two games.

Ray Davis is the guy to watch for with Kentucky’s running game. He ran for over 1,000 yards last year and is well on pace to do that again. He’s not known for breaking off huge runs but picks up consistent chunk yardage.

The Kentucky defense has been good at making stops when they need to and getting some big takeaways. They have three fumble recoveries and two interceptions and will look to take advantage of an Akron offense that is not looking confident right now. Leading tackler LB Trevin Wallace has been the star of the Wildcats defense with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble so far. The rush defense has been good, allowing 164 yards over the two games and should be able to stifle a weak Akron run game and put pressure on the passing game.

Game Outlook

Sometimes after people go through near death experiences they become a whole new person and start living life to the fullest. Akron could do the same, after avoiding an embarrassing loss last week after they appeared to be dead and buried. However, no matter how inspired the Zips come into this game, they likely do not have the consistency to upset Kentucky.

The Wildcats defense should be able to hold a reeling Akron offense in check. It will also be tough for the Zips to keep up with Kentucky’s experienced, balanced offense as the game goes on.

Prediction: Kentucky 34, Akron 6