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2023 MAC Football Week 1 Game Recap: Temple Owls 24, Akron Zips 21

A cavalcade of circumstances prevent Akron from walking out of Philadelphia with a strong non-conference win.

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Akron Zips (0-1) came out on the wrong end of many close games last year — they did the same to start their 2023 season. The Temple Owls (1-0) overcame a 21-7 first half deficit with 17 unanswered points to defeat Akron to give themselves a home win in their season opener.

While Temple made some big plays, Akron made some avoidable mistakes, leading to the loss. This was summed up well by a sequence late in the fourth. A DJ Irons interception on an underthrown ball on second and short stalled a potential game tying-or-winning drive with Temple ahead 24-21. A few plays later, an offsides call on Joey Hunter, who was making his collegiate debut, would ice the game for Temple.

The Zips actually started off the game about as perfectly as you could ask for, with DJ Irons linking up with Florida transfer Lorenzo Lingard for a 77-yard passing touchdown on just the second play of the game. The Zips defense then shut down Temple on its first four drives, forcing three three-and-outs.

Temple got on the board to tie it early in the second, before Akron scored two touchdowns to jump to a 14-point lead. The first of the Zips’ second quarter scores was enabled by a 50-yard catch by Daniel George from Irons. Backup QB Tahj Bullock — who had no throws but five carries in the game — would cap off the drive from close range. Irons then threw his second touchdown of the game to sophomore Myles Walker with less than two minutes to go in the first half. It was the first catch of Walker’s collegiate career.

Right before halftime it felt like Temple was reeling, but then the tides started to turn. The Owls offense, led by sophomore QB EJ Warner, got some quick yardage and hit a field goal as the second quarter clock hit zeros. The three-pointer would prove to be a big momentum shifter.

Warner marched his team right down the field to start the second half and found his running back Edward Saydee for a seven-yard touchdown.

After Akron and Temple traded the ball back a few times in the third, the Owls offense got in rhythm again. A nine-play, 50-yard drive ended with another Warner-to-Saydee touchdown connection in the air early in the fourth to put Temple up 24-21 — a lead they’d keep. Warner finished with 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 28-of-49 passing.

Akron did a nice job of limiting Temple’s strong pass rushers in the first half, but started to bend a bit in the second as the offense failed to make things happen. Irons looked more frantic in the pocket towards the end of the game with more hands in his face. He was also sacked twice in the second half after taking no sacks in the first. Temple had no turnovers until near the very end of the game but did a great job stifling the Zips drives and holding them to just 3-of-12 on third downs.

Despite the frustrating result, Akron has some good things to take away from the loss in Philadelphia. The big play ability is still there for DJ Irons, who finished 17-of-29 with 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

The defense, which came into the season with some big question marks, was relatively consistent, hardly letting Temple string two good drives in a row together. Junior Antavious Fish, who had just eight solo tackles in seven games last year already had four of them to lead Akron in Saturday’s game.

Joe Moorhead’s Zips will also have some things to improve on — mostly having to do with offensive consistency. The offense only compiled 74 rushing yards (led by Drake Anderson with 40) and just 279 total. Watching how the Akron rushing game evolves with a number of new names in the RB room should be interesting.

Akron will likely get a chance to try out some things against FCS Morgan State next week. That game will be a home matchup for the Zips and they should be a big favorite heading into the contest.