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2023 MAC Football Week 2 Game Preview: Akron Zips vs. Morgan State Bears

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

The Akron Zips will be one of six MAC teams taking on an FCS opponent this weekend when they play Morgan State at home on Saturday. Storylines for these kinds of matchups are usually about whether the FBS team will take care of business or get handed a big upset.

Although Akron has had some really tough seasons recently and are starting 0-1 this year, this game should be an opportunity for them to comfortably get in the win column. Morgan State, which picked up a big win within the FCS last week, will come into this game upset-minded and will pull out all the stops to try to shock the Zips.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, September 9, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time
  • Network: ESPN+ (a valid subscription is required)
  • Location: Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio
  • All-time series: Akron leads 3-0
  • Last meeting: 2018 - Akron 41, Morgan State 7

Akron Zips outlook

Akron lost many close games last year and started the 2023 season the same way. The Zips had a 21-7 first half lead over Temple and saw it disappear fast in the second half en route to a 24-21 opening week loss in Philadelphia. There were definitely some positives from the game that head coach Joe Moorhead can build on but also a number of negatives that he’ll look to correct.

The good news for the Zips’ offense is that it was able to break off a few big plays against Temple including two 50+ yard passing plays — one being a 77-yard score for Lorenzo Lingard on the second play of the game. The bad news is Akron was unable to sustain drives and pick up first downs consistently, especially in the second half.

QB DJ Irons did show some playmaking ability against Temple but also struggled to pick up shorter yardage both in the air and on the ground. Akron receivers also had some trouble getting separation. Specifically, Irons’ #1 and #2 receivers Alex Adams and Daniel George will look to get in rhythm and get some confidence back Saturday. A guy that could see his role on the team continue to rise is sophomore Bobby Golden, who was all over the field against Temple catching passes, returning punts and getting a carry on the ground.

Many of Akron’s offensive struggles last week had to do with a running game that was all out of sorts. When Akron takes on Morgan State, Moorhead should be able to give more carries to his running backs and figure out which of them he wants to center the running game around. As of now, Lingard and Drake Anderson — who combined for 64 yards on 14 carries last week — are the two guys to watch for.

Akron’s defense should make things tough on Morgan State. The unit played a solid game against Temple and won’t have to face a QB nearly as talented as the Owls’ EJ Warner. The Akron line didn’t generate a ton of pressure in Week 1, but the DBs held their own, forcing a number of incompletions with good coverage. Morgan State threw for just 99 yards on 13 passes last week and will likely have to put the ball in the air a bit more against Akron.

Akron’s run defense was the best part of the team’s performance in Week 1. As a team, they limited Temple to 61 rushing yards on a 2.2 yards per carry clip. Linebackers Antavious Fish, Bryan McCoy and Shammond Cooper didn’t come into the year with much experience but made an impact at Temple and are a group to watch for on Akron’s defense.

Morgan State outlook

Morgan State was picked to finish fourth in the six-team Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference after a 4-7 2022 campaign, but the team’s Week 1 result suggests they could be a lot better. The Bears defeated Richmond (who came into the game ranked 16th in the FCS Coaches Poll) in a low-scoring defensive affair. It’s a good start for second-year head coach Damon Wilson who has his sights set on bringing a MEAC title to Morgan State.

If the Bears are going to upset the Zips, the passing game will have to step up.

Carson Baker should be the man under center for the road team, but he’s coming off a game where he didn’t exactly get many reps in. The MBA grad student threw just eight passes against Richmond, which suggests Morgan State still isn’t very comfortable putting the ball in the air. Baker, who played for San Diego State and Western Kentucky before arriving at Morgan State last year, will likely have more opportunities to show off his arm against Akron.

The rushing game is what got Morgan State moving offensively last year and that should be the same this season. In Week 1 against Richmond, the Bears ran for 114 yards with senior Jarin Davis accounting for 73 of those on 12 carries. Morgan State will likely turn to Davis on offense early in the game to try to get some positive momentum.

The defense is the most exciting part about Morgan State’s 2023 outlook. The Bears had eight tackles-for-loss, five sacks, an interception and picked up three fumbles in the season opener. Junior linebacker Erick Hunter was the player of the game finishing with 11 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. DL Elijah Williams, who had 8.5 sacks and was named to the All-MEAC First Team in 2022 is also someone to watch out for on the Bears defense.

Game outlook

Akron will be looking to grab a no-sweat win as a heavy favorite on Saturday after a frustrating loss in the season opener. The Zips should have the leadership and experience on offense in DJ Irons to be able to deal with a confident Morgan State defense and get down the field for some touchdowns. If Akron jumps out to an early lead, expect the Zips to get heavily involved on the ground and see what they have in the running back room.

Morgan State should be feeling good coming into this game after beating Richmond as an underdog. The defense is something that could help them really improve within their conference this season and is certainly not worth overlooking. However, it is really difficult to imagine their offense being able to get much going against the Zips. This game could definitely be a defensive struggle early on but Akron will wear out the visitors and pull away for a comfortable win.

Prediction: Akron 31, Morgan State 0