The Akron Zips (1-3) came in highly motivated and outplayed the Indiana Hoosiers (2-2) for big chunks of the game in Bloomington, but couldn’t pull out a quadruple overtime win on Saturday night, as the Zips came up a few inches short in a 29-27 contest.
Akron could taste the big upset road win with five seconds to go in regulation. It was 17-17 and QB DJ Irons had just battled through an injury to lead his team into Indiana territory to give the Zips a chance to walk off winners. With the ball at the Hoosiers’ 15, all that needed to happen for the Zips to come out with the victory was for them to make a 32-yard field goal. With Akron players locking arms on the sidelines, backup kicker Dante Jackson lined up, kicked the ball off his boot... and just plain hooked it, sending the game to overtime.
Akron couldn’t get it done in the extra periods which will hurt for a bit, but it doesn’t take away from the valiant effort they put up in the final game of their non-conference season. The defense made life hell for Indiana all game, DJ Irons showed tremendous resilience and the rushing game finally, finally, showed promise.
The game got started as a true defensive battle right out of the gate. The teams traded several stops in the first quarter. On Akron’s first drive, Indiana defensive back Phillip Dunnam picked off Irons for his team-leading third interception of the season. The Zips responded by standing tough on the Hoosiers’ first action with the ball. Linebacker Antavious Fish got involved early with a couple of big tackles on running plays. As a unit, Akron’s D held Indiana to just 92 rushing yards on 34 carries.
Indiana opened the scoring in the second quarter after putting together an 80-yard drive made possible by a 40 yard pass by quarterback Tayven Jackson to receiver Cam Camper — who had two 40 yard catches in the game. Running back Christian Turner caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to give the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead.
After another interception by Irons, Akron’s defense responded again — this time, forcing a turnover on downs at the goal line after the Hoosiers started first-and-goal from the four-yard line.
Just before the half, linebacker Andrew Behm intercepted Tayven Jackson, to give the Zips the ball in Indiana territory. Akron got on the board with a field goal before the break.
The second half is where Akron’s offense not just showed signs of life, but made some big plays. DJ Irons carried the ball all night —much more than he has in previous games — and it was proving to be effective. After completing five straight passes on Akron’s opening drive of the half, Irons ran it in from 14 yards to give his team a 10-7 lead.
After the score, Joe Moorhead pulled out some trickery. On the following kickoff, Dante Jackson executed an onside kick perfectly, where the design was to kick it as hard as he could directly off an Indiana player. It worked, the ball deflecting off the Hoosiers’ Noah Pierre as Jackson recovered the ball himself.
Unfortunately for the Zips, they couldn’t take advantage of the play and score on the following drive. Still in the third quarter, Akron dealt with some real adversity.
DJ Irons was on the bench with a wrist injury and shots of him on the sideline showed he wasn’t gripping the ball that well. Jeff Undercuffler Jr. replaced him momentarily and almost immediately threw a pick-six which put Indiana ahead.
Now in the fourth, Indiana was threatening to score and pull away, with the ball deep in Akron territory. Once again, the Zips pulled out all the stops on a goal line stand and forced the Hoosiers to settle for a 19-yard field goal. The Akron defense held strong all night with linebacker Bryan McCoy and defensive end CJ Nunnally showing up time and time again to make tackles when they needed to the most. As a team, the men from the Rubber City held the Hoosiers to just 3-of-14 on third downs.
Akron had been waiting for one of its running backs to do something all season and it happened in a huge spot Saturday night. Irons, now back in the game, handed it off to Lorenzo Lingard who found a hole, cut inside and accelerated 71-yards to the house to tie up the ballgame at 17-17 with under four minutes left. It continued a good night of rushing for the Zips — their 243 rushing yard total against the Hoosiers is nearly twice the amount they had in the first three games of the year combined (127).
After another Indiana three-and-out, where Tayven Jackson couldn’t connect with anyone open downfield, the Zips got the ball back with time remaining —- setting up the missed field goal. The defensive back unit as a whole was very strong, helping hold Jackson to just 11/26 passing and 190 yards. Safety KJ Martin had a couple of pass deflections.
After the missed field goal as the clock hit zeros, Akron’s positive mentality never faded. They started with the ball in overtime and DJ Irons made things happen again with his feet. On a broken pass play on third down, Irons evaded pass rushers to the Akron sideline and then made a nasty cut move to find open grass and surge towards the end zone. He took a big lick as he crossed the goal line but popped right back on his feet, fired up.
The Turnover Tire briefly became the Touchdown Tire for Irons, who put up a tough and resilient performance. He finished 141 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries on the ground and also settled in passing-wise after two first half picks, finishing with 194 yards on 22/35 passing.
Once it got to the two-point conversion-off part of overtime, the Zips offensive line struggles, which have been there all year, were magnified. Irons had trouble getting the ball off on both possessions in the third and fourth overtimes, and Indiana got in the endzone on a reverse play in their first possession of the fourth extra period to win it.
The loss is a significant one for the league; Indiana’s escape means an 0-8 record for the MAC against the Big Ten in 2023. The result snapped the MAC’s most valued streak, marking the first time in 16 seasons (excluding the 2020 COVID year) at least one MAC team did not beat a Big Ten opponent.
The Zips played their hearts out and bounced back from adversity numerous times to come within inches of pulling off an upset in Bloomington. The loss will sting, but the way the team battled after turnovers, an injury to the QB and a missed game winning field goal, should inspire them going into the conference part of the schedule.
Akron takes on Buffalo on their home field at InfoCision Stadium next Saturday at 12 p.m. Eastern.