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2023 MAC Football Week 3 Game Recap: Kentucky Wildcats 35, Akron Zips 3

Akron makes it interesting early, but Kentucky’s talent pulls through late.

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

The Akron Zips (1-2) defense held strong for chunks of the game, but the offense couldn’t get anything going as the Kentucky Wildcats (3-0) pulled away for a big 35-3 win on Saturday night in Lexington. The Wildcats defense held the Zips in check as it racked up five sacks and its experienced leaders on offense created several explosive plays to get points on the board and put the game away.

Kentucky looked like they might blow out Akron early. After a 39-yard catch and run by Davis, Leary linked up with tight end Josh Kattus for an eight yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. After this, the Zips defense stepped up. The unit forced a couple of punts and then brought out the Turnover Tire after recovering a fumble on a 59-yard completion from Leary to Jordan Dingle.

It wasn’t until right before the half that Kentucky scored again. After a big sack by reigning MAC defensive player of the week CJ Nunnally, Leary made another big play. He found Tayvion Robinson for a 22-yard score with eight seconds left in the half. Although he found himself pressured constantly, Leary showed incredible composure and finished with 315 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 16-of-25 passing on the night.

Akron’s defense kept the score from getting embarrassing for much of the contest. It wasn’t until a wild play late in the third quarter that the floodgates opened. With Kentucky leading 14-3 on third-and-long with under two minutes to go in the quarter, several Zips immediately stormed the backfield and nearly pulled down Kentucky QB Devin Leary twice. Somehow, Leary ducked out of the sack and found running back Ray Davis for a short completion. Ray Davis did the rest, running vertically along the field before finding room on the opposite sideline and sprinting to the end zone for a 58-yard score.

It was the Ray Davis show from there, as on the next drive after his impressive 58 yard catch and run touchdown, he broke off a 55-yard run to stretch Kentucky’s lead to 28-3. Davis, the star of the night on Saturday, finished with 72 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven carries and 97 receiving yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Second-string running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye did his best Davis impression late in the game with 58 yards on four carries and got in the end zone late in the fourth to put the game at 35-3.

An Akron defense that looked good at times, just couldn’t prevent the big plays by Leary and Davis, and the Akron offense, which was a major concern coming into Saturday’s game, didn’t leave Zips fans with much to feel good about after it.

DJ Irons, who missed most of last week’s game for undisclosed reasons, was back as the starter and couldn’t get in rhythm. Irons upside is that he can usually make a few big plays downfield but he wasn’t able to do that as receivers struggled to get open and most of his completions went for very short yardage. Irons finished with just a 3.8 yards per attempt clip with 130 yards on 23-of-34 passing. Jasiah Gathings led receivers with five receptions for 43 yards.

Because the Zips did pick up small amounts of positive yardage consistently, they compiled 16 first downs — just two fewer than Kentucky. However, they rarely found themselves deep in enemy territory because they couldn’t break off huge chunks. The furthest Akron got was in the third quarter on a drive that resulted in a Noah Perez 36-yard field goal.

The running game had trouble getting anything going for the third straight week. The team finished with 49 rushing yards with sack yardage taking away a decent amount but they never looked threatening on the ground. Running backs Lorenzo Lingard and Drake Anderson combined for 39 yards on ten carries. Akron was 129th in the FBS in team rushing yards per game heading into the week — they don’t look like they are on their way up that list.

The Wildcats were clearly the better team all night at Kroger Field. The Zips defense definitely made some plays and had some things to feel good about but ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats balanced offense led by Leary and Davis. Akron’s offense, on the other hand, does not have many positives to look at.

Akron has another tough matchup next week before starting conference play as they’ll head to Bloomington to face the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.