Two of the MAC East's cellar dwellers managed to snap their losing skids last week with Miami playing its best game of the conference season in a 28-13 drubbing of Eastern Michigan, while Akron won a tight 17-13 game at UMass. The game for the RedHawks wasn't as close as the score suggests, as the team had 441 yards of offense and a school-record nine sacks, including four by JT Jones who was named the MAC East Defensive Player of the Week this week.
Against the Minutemen, Thomas Woodson was able to sustain to point-scoring drives late to come away with the win, despite throwing two interceptions in the game. The Zips have taken the last two games in the series against the Red and White, despite being 7-16-1 all-time in the rivalry. The two teams will square off at noon Saturday with Akron coming in as a touchdown favorite.
The 'Hawks had a lot of success running the ball on the worst run defense in the country as they went off for 291 yards with Alonzo Smith getting the lion's share with 20 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown. Billy Bahl had an efficient outing in his first win, going 10/14 for 119 yards, a score, and an interception while Jared Murphy countinues to make plays in the passing game as he went for seven catches, 91 yards, and two TDs.
MAC West Division Championship Scenarios
With the West going down to the wire, any one of three teams could win the divisional championship. We break-down the tie-breakers if they are needed
Akron's defense played very well against UMass last week as it held them to 3.4 yards per play and a 20% conversion rate on third down while also hauling in two picks. On the other side of the ball, the Zips were able to run the ball and control the clock to the tune of 155 yards (with 150 coming from Woodson and Conor Hundley) and a time of possession of 33:54.
Miami will have its hands full offensively as it goes against an Akron defense that is 29th in the nation in total yards allowed and 5th in rushing defense. The RedHawks will have to lean on Bahl and Murphy to make plays in the passing game while maintaining some form of balance and keep the quarterback upright against a good defense.
Meanwhile, Akron is poised to have a big day on the ground against a Miami defense that allows 176.5 rushing yards per game. A potential game-changer could be the play of Woodson, who has had an up-and-down season passing (53.2% completion percentage, 1,415 yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions), but is second on the team in rushing which could tip the scales in the Zips favor as the RedHawks have struggled defending quarterbacks that can run.
The teams are evenly matched in special teams as the two squads boast terrific freshmen kickoff returners with Miami's Maurice Thomas (18.6 yards per return) and Akron's Van Edwards (21.6 yards per return). The kicking game, however, is considerably less dynamic as the teams combine for eight field goal misses on the season. If the game Saturday comes down to field position, the Zips have the edge at punter in Zach Paul, who averages over 40 yards per punt and had 18 punts downed inside the 20-yard line so far on the season.
This game also features two programs heading in different directions as Miami under second-year head coach Chuck Martin has made some strides following the disaster that was the 2013 RedHawks and are poised to get better next season with the third-best recruiting class in the MAC in 2016 according to 247Sports. The Zips, who are 15-30 in over three seasons under Terry Bowden and have struggled on the recruiting trail as they only have two commits for next season.