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Akron Zips vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Football Preview

The Akron Zips lost an ugly game to Marshall last week and showed signs of the "old Zips." They have another tough opponent this week in the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Akron losing to Marshall on Saturday certainly wasn't a surprise.  Marshall has terrorized the MAC this season with wins over Miami, Ohio, and now Akron by an average of over 25 points.  The way Akron lost this game was a surprise. It was at a no point a competitive game with the Thundering Herd taking a 24-0 lead shortly into the second quarter and never looking back.  The Zips turned the ball over early and often in Saturday's game and never really got anything going.  Kyle Pohl completed just 17-of-37 for 151 yards and two interceptions.  Jawon Chisholm hasn't been used much this season, but was sorely missed when sophomore RB Hakeem Johnson coughed up the ball twice on just five carries.

Marshall made sure to take advantage of all four Zips turnovers.  They ran all over the Zips with 38 carries for 284 yards and a whopping five touchdowns.  Rakeem Cato didn't put up the Heisman numbers he's capable of, but he didn't really need to.  Akron managed two garbage time touchdowns in the fourth eventually falling to the Thundering Herd 48-17.

After Penn State and Marshall, Akron has another mountain to climb when they travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday.  They come into the game as 20 point underdogs following their worst performance of the year.  Pittsburgh started the season 3-0 with wins over Delaware, FIU, and Boston College before falling at home to Iowa 24-20 last week.

The Panthers attack starts with dark horse Heisman candidate James Conner.  The sophomore running back has ran for over 150 yards in all four games he's played and has nine touchdowns on the season.  Conner must be licking his chops after seeing the Zips defensive performance against Marshall last week and he could be in line for a huge day.

The passing game is helmed by two more sophomores in quarterback Chad Voytik and receiver Tyler Boyd.  Voytik has been mostly average and consistent so far in his first season as starter, but it's unlikely he'll be asked to do much against the Zips Saturday.  Receiver Tyler Boyd had a great freshman season with over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns and is on track to surpass those numbers this year.

Kyle Pohl and the Zips offense will also have their work cut out for them.  The offense has continued to be mostly one-dimensional primarily relying on the passing game.  Aside from the game against Howard, Pohl has zero touchdowns and two interceptions while completing less than 50% of his passes.  With no running game to speak of, the passing game will have to be lights out against the Panthers to keep this game close.  There will need to be improvement on last week from all aspects.  The line has struggled, Pohl has struggled, and the receivers have been dropping too many passes.

Akron couldn't stop Marshall running the ball last week and there's really no reason to expect them to stop James Conner this week.  The reality is that Conner will probably get his numbers regardless and the Zips will just have to hope to limit big plays.  The defense will likely need to come up with a turnover and a few third down stops to keep this game close.

Be sure to also check out the Q & A's we had with Cardiac Hill on our site and on their site for more preview coverage.