The Akron Zips (2-3, 0-1 MAC) will make their grey turf debut when they travel to Ypsilanti, Michigan on Saturday October 3 to take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-4, 0-1 MAC), who have lost three straight. The Zips hosted the Ohio Bobcats last week, and couldn't find the end zone in a close 14-12 loss. The offense took a step back from the week before at Louisiana, but overall, the Zips were better than the Bobcats in nearly every statistical category.
Eastern Michigan has struggled all year stopping the run, and didn't have a prayer last week against LSU's Leonard Fournette. Against Army, the Eagles gave up 556 yards on the ground alone. The Eagle defense gives up an average of 378 yards per game on the ground alone. The numbers are inflated a bit because of LSU and Army, but 556 yards to any team in one game is alarming.
As far as pass defense goes, the Eagles are nearly at the top in stopping the pass. Part of this is because teams have been able to run it through them like a hot knife through butter, but giving up only 117 yards per game through the air is impressive no matter what.
Offensively, the Eagles run the ball as well as anyone in the MAC. Even with dual threat quarterback Reggie Bell out with a broken jaw, the Eagles are having success running it. Darius Jackson has become one of the best running backs in the MAC. In fact, he may even be the best back in the MAC. He has 473 yards and leads the MAC with 8 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry. In the absence of the team's offensive leader, Jackson has been the one to step up and at least give the Eagles a chance to win some games.
Brogan Roback is Bell's replacement, for now. He had one great game at Wyoming, completing 17 of 24 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, but he hasn't done anything impressive since. In all other games, he has thrown for 708 yards with three touchdowns and seven (!!!) interceptions.
Akron's defensive strength matches up perfectly with EMU's offensive strength. The Zips specialize in stopping the run. The Zips give up 92 yards per game on the ground, and held Ohio to -5 rushing yards in the second half of last week's game. As a whole, Akron's defense has given up just 37 total points in the past three games, including 14 to both Ohio and Louisiana.
The Zip defense is certainly good enough to keep them in every game against the MAC, but you need points to win games, and the defense can't always do that. If Akron wants to be a real contender in the MAC, the offense must do better than four field goals in a league game. Quarterback Tommy Woodson, who began 2015 as the third-stringer, made his first start at Louisiana two weeks ago and threw for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns as well as running for 93 yards and a touchdown. Things were much different against Ohio, though. There were numerous drops and costly penalties, but Woodson took a step back with a poor performance against a great MAC defense.
Against Eastern Michigan, we may see Akron offensive coordinator A.J. Milwee try to establish the run game with Conor Hundley and Woodson a lot more because of EMU's putrid run defense. As we saw at Louisiana, using the run to open up the opportunity to pass, and visa versa, can be a deadly combination with Woodson's ability to both run and throw.
To this point, no team will have played a more important game than this one. Akron has the opportunity to show that it can possibly be a contender in the MAC, and they have to be able to win on the road in conference play to do that. It may be an even bigger game for the Eagles, though. They have yet to win at home this season, and looked solid last week at LSU, albeit the Bayou Bengals were undoubtedly holding back.
A big statement could be made by one of these teams on Saturday October 3 at 3:00 p.m. EST.