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2023 MAC Football Week 4 Game Preview: Akron Zips at Indiana Hoosiers

Two programs with similar strengths and issues face off in Bloomington, with a very important conference streak on the line.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Akron (1-2) will be heading to Bloomington to take on Indiana in the MAC’s last chance to extend its 16-season streak of beating at least one Big Ten team. The Zips, who have had a rough 2023 campaign so far, will be looking to rise to the occasion against Indiana, who faces struggles of their own.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, September 23rd, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern
  • Network: Big Ten Network (a valid cable subscription is required.)
  • Location: Indiana University Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana
  • Gambling considerations: Indiana is a 16.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 46.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: Indiana 3-0
  • Last meeting: Indiana 35, Akron 20 on September 25, 2010.

Akron outlook

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

The Zips entered the year with a realistic chance of winning 5-6 games this season. Although they escaped a devastating loss against Morgan State, the beginning of their start to the season hasn’t too promising. They do, however, have an opportunity to change their whole 2023 outlook when they take on the Hoosiers Saturday.

The Zips offense has, suffice to say, struggled. Through three games, they’ve scored a total of 41 points, good for just over 13 points per game. 21 of those points came in the first half of the season at Temple. Joe Moorhead came to the program with promises of a sound — and maybe even explosive — offense. Last year, you could see the offense budding, behind a good passing attack. That has not been the case this year.

Since that first half against Temple, Akron has had trouble getting big chunk plays through the air. The issues with the passing game have been a combination of things. One can look immediately to the offensive line, which is near the bottom of the FBS in sacks allowed. This has made it tough for the quarterbacks to go through their progressions and complete longer passes. Combine that with the worst running offense in the NCAA (1.63 yards per rush and one touchdown) and it becomes quickly apparent what the issue might be.

Quarterback play, understandably in this context, has also been inconsistent. DJ Irons looked good for the most part against Temple but missed most of the Morgan State game and then hardly threw the ball downfield at all against Kentucky. The Zips have receivers that can make plays and if Joe Moorhead can find out how to get them the ball more against Indiana, it will bode well for him.

There isn’t much to say about the Akron run game right now other than that it can’t get worse. Akron is dead last in the FBS in rushing yards per game and yards per carry. The running backs Drake Anderson and Lorenzo Lingard haven’t shown much and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Irons take more of a role in the rushing game Saturday.

(For more context on the rushing offense, the 128th-ranked unit, South Carolina, averages 11 more yards per game and has five rushing touchdowns on just eight more carries.)

The Akron defense definitely has things to feel good about going into a game against a team that doesn’t have a particularly strong offense.

CJ Nunnally, virtually unheard of before the last couple of weeks has emerged as a force in the pass rush. The defensive end transfer from Independence Community College in Kansas will look to break through an Indiana O-line that has allowed just two sacks all year. Linebackers Bryan McCoy and Antavious Fish are going to try to reproduce previous performances when they’ve been a force at limiting the opposition’s run game. The Zips defense as a unit, is going to do everything they can to give a boost to the offense and bring out the Turnover Tire.

Indiana outlook

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Indiana is another team that entered 2023 with a good chance of improving from last year and similarly to the Zips, it has been a little disappointing for them so far. The Hoosiers started out with a 23-3 loss against Ohio State, then beat up on FCS Indiana State before dropping a close one to Louisville. Indiana will be looking to put the Zips away early as they prepare for the rest of the Big Ten season.

Another way Indiana is similar to Akron, is that the offense is struggling, while the defense has been sharp. It appears the Hoosiers have a quarterback competition going on between two freshmen; Brendan Sorsby started the opener but after passing for just 58 yards, has been the backup for Tayven Jackson. Jackson has been solid so far, as he’s completing over 70 percent off his passes and has thrown one pick in 60 attempts. Crimson Quarry’s L.C. Norton says he looked particularly impressive in the second half against Louisville, nearly rallying the team to tie it late.

As previously mentioned, the offensive line has been good despite entering the year with some questions. Indiana spreads the ball around in the passing game — Norton says the receiving corps is still looking for a big breakout game from someone. Cam Camper is the team’s leading receiver so far. Akron’s pass defense isn’t elite by any means, so look for Indiana to get the pass game going.

Indiana’s ground game is centered around running back Jaylin Lucas, who Norton says is “a highlight reel waiting to happen.” He’ll look to find some holes for big gains against the Zips defense that hasn’t allowed consistent yardage against the run this year. Josh Henderson has also gotten involved in the Indiana rushing attack this year.

Defense is clearly the strength of the Hoosiers. They kept a high-powered Buckeyes team from running all over them and then played well enough to win in the next two games. They’ve held opponents to just a 31 percent conversion rate on third down, showing the strength of the pass defense. Norton says the defensive line got outplayed by last week, but that shouldn’t be a problem against the Zips weak offensive line.

Senior linebacker Aaron Casey has been a force for the defensive unit leading the team in total tackles (28) and sacks (two) and has a pass deflection as well. Western Michigan transfer defensive end Andre Carter has been a major disruptor for Indiana so far as well. Sophomore defensive back Phillip Dunnam is seeing his first real game action this year and making the most of it, with two interceptions so far.

Game outlook

Akron shouldn’t be too shaken by the Big Ten road environment coming off the night game against Kentucky in SEC country. They have not had much to be proud of so far and they’ll be looking for something to give a spark to the program. Indiana, on the other hand, will be just looking to take care of business in what has been a frustrating start for them as well.

As long as the Hoosiers protect the ball on offense, they should be able walk away with a home win. Their defense is coming in hot and should have no problem limiting the Zips offense that is all out of sorts right now. The last time Akron beat a Big Ten team was in 2018 when they upset Northwestern thanks to two pick sixes. The Zips will likely need multiple turnovers and a defensive touchdown or two to come away with the upset in Bloomington.

Prediction: Indiana 23, Akron 7

[Editor’s note: article updated at 4:15 p.m. Eastern to include insight from L.C. Norton from sister site Crimson Quarry in the Indiana section. Thank you to everyone over at CQ for our exchange of information!]