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Akron Zips vs. Bowling Green Falcons football preview: Another step to Detroit

BGSU hosts its annual homecoming game on Saturday when Bowden Ball invades the Doyt. For the Falcons, it's a chance to move further down the road to Detroit. For the Zips, a loss could mean the end of that road.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Akron Zips (3-3, 1-1 MAC) travel to Doyt Perry Stadium on Saturday afternoon to face the Bowling Green Falcons (4-2, 2-0) in another important battle for the MAC's Eastern Division championship.

The Falcons are seeking their third straight win over a divisional opponent this season and 15th consecutive dating back to 2012. With a win, BGSU would be 3-0 in MAC play, and by the end of the day, they could be the only unblemished team left in the East, given Ohio's difficult game with Western Michigan. A loss would drop the Falcons into a tie with Akron and possibly a game behind the Bobcats.

The Zips are trying to defeat Bowling Green for the first time in nine years and to win a game at Perry Stadium for the first time since a 24-14 victory in 2005. A win in this game plus an Ohio loss would give Akron a tie for the division lead. However, a loss would be devastating. They would be two games behind BGSU and either one or two games behind Ohio. They would also have lost to both teams, putting them effectively three games out of the division lead with just five to play.

Bowling Green has owned this series in recent years, earning six consecutive victories over Akron (2007-2009 and 2012-2014). Of those six wins, only one (2008, 37-33 at Akron) was by fewer than 14 points. The Falcons lead the all-time series, 14-7.

This game represents a classic clash of offense versus defense. The Falcons lead the MAC in scoring offense, as well as total yards and passing yards. They're also fifth in the league in rushing offense. Conversely, Akron is ranked second in both total defense and rushing defense, as well as third in scoring defense. Against the pass, the Zips are sixth in the league.

When the sides are flipped, both BGSU's defense and Akron's offense are not very good compared to their MAC brethren, as both units are ranked in the lower third of the conference with the exception of the rushing game. The Zips are fourth in the MAC when running the ball, but defending the run has also been the best part of BGSU's defense.

Ultimately, this game pits strength against strength and weakness against weakness. For Akron to pull the upset, they'll need to find a way to slow down BGSU's powerhouse offense or exploit the weaknesses of the Falcon defense.

Slowing down the Falcons' offense has proven to be nearly impossible for any opponent. They're averaging 40 points and 600 yards a game, but what makes it so dangerous is how diverse it is. Yes, Matt Johnson throws for over 400 yards per game and has two of the MAC's top ten receivers (as well as two others who have over 300 yards this season). However, BGSU also rushes for 170 yards per game. Fred Coppet and Travis Greene are both in the MAC's top 10 ball carriers, and Johnson has over 100 yards of his own.

To win, the Zips will need to defend the deep ball well and pressure Johnson, who has been sacked a league-high 19 times this season. If you can force Bowling Green into longer drives, you increase the odds of a drive-killing penalty or turnover. The penalties are more likely though -- the Falcons have the most in the MAC, compared to the fewest turnovers (five).

Can Akron's offense keep up? Their results over the last three weeks have been very encouraging, particularly given how poorly it performed against Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. Since September 26th, the Zips have produced 31 points and 428 yards per game, including two contests where they rushed for well over 200 yards. Last week against Eastern Michigan, they ran for 278 and produced 47 points.

Even though defending the run has been Bowling Green's strength, Akron's best chance of victory is likely through the running game. If they can successfully run the ball with Conor Hundley, they can control the clock and keep the Falcons' offense off the field. Hundley's been very good this season, with 474 yards (5.6 per carry) and six touchdowns.

Quarterback Thomas Woodson will be another key to this game plan, as he will have to be able to convert third downs and move the chains. Woodson is dangerous outside of the pocket and owns 289 rushing yards and two scores, but his passing needs to be more accurate. His completion percentage of 51.8 will not get the job done in a game like this.

Akron is absolutely capable of winning this game, but they'll have to control the action from the start. If Bowling Green builds an early lead, the Zips could be in trouble, as their passing game is not built to overcome large deficits.