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Akron Zips vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns football preview

The Zips handled Savannah State last week, but will have a much tougher opponent this week.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Let's flashback to September 21, 2013, for a moment. Akron was just seven days off of almost pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Zips history at Michigan, and a crowd of 18,809 showed up to cheer on the Zips as the program was showing some signs of life. By the end of the year, of course, some hope was restored as the Zips went 5-7 for their best record in five years. So, Akron fans wanted to come out and support their Zips after they witnessed a more-than-valiant effort in one of the most hostile environments in the country just a week prior.

The night ended in a 35-30 loss to the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette. It was a great game, but the ending was so disappointing because it was just another loss for Akron, just like the 33 in the three past years combined. If not for a surprise onside-kick in the fourth quarter, it may have gone the other way, but it just wasn't meant to be.

The Akron Zips (1-2, 0-0 MAC) travel to Cajun country on Saturday, September 26 for a rematch with the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt), who are coming off of a week three bye.

Louisiana opened up the season with a close 40-33 loss in Lexington to the Kentucky Wildcats before evening up their record in week two against Northwestern State of the FCS. The clear strength of this team is their ability to run the ball. Through just two games, the Cajuns have rushed for a total of 607 yards, with an average of about 7 yards per carry. The attack is led by senior running back Torrey Pierce and junior back Elijah McGuire, who have accounted for 410 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns through the first two games. McGuire isn't new to this, though, he's got 2,375 yards and 27 touchdowns in his career already, including 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014.

Just because running the ball is the strength of the offense doesn't mean the passing game is bad. Junior quarterback Brooks Haack replaced Terrance Broadway this year, as Broadway graduated after 2014. Under Haack, the Cajun's air attack has just been okay, not great, not bad. He has completed 64% of his throws for a total of 381 yards with two interceptions but no touchdowns.

Through two games, the Cajun defense has given up 28.5 points per game. One of the defensive leaders, so far, is Tracy Walker, who leads the team in total tackles with 13 and has recorded the only interception on the team, which came against Kentucky. Senior Zachary DeGrange is second on the team with 11 total tackles with two sacks.

The last matchup was in 2013, but Akron still has quite a few familiar faces that would like to steal one from the Ragin' Cajuns. Nose tackle Cody Grice and linebackers Jatavis Brown and Dylan Evans have been key contributors to Chuck Amato's defense since 2013, which was the season that we saw the Zip defense become an asset as opposed to the liability that it was in 2012.

Grice has since began playing offense since the last matchup. He even ran for three touchdowns last week on just five carries. Evans has become one of the leaders of the Akron defense, as he is tied for 12th in the nation with 33 total tackles. The secondary is led by junior cornerback DeAndre Scott, who has made both of Akron's interceptions this season.

Akron's run stopping abilities give them an advantage in this game, but the offense has to show that it can move the ball if the Zips want any chance to steal one in Louisiana.

All three Zips quarterbacks Tra'Von Chapman, Tommy Woodson, and Kyle Pohl have all seen significant time this year. Chapman has made all three starts, but has shown his inexperience with some overthrows. Woodson, a redshirt sophomore, played most of the game against Savannah State, and looked impressive as he threw 12-for-20 for 207 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, which was on the goal line.

Woodson has worked hard enough to go from 258lb. to about 227lb. in the offseason, which has helped him gain more respect from Terry Bowden and the coaching staff. His impressive performance against Savannah State has given him the opportunity to start against the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday.

It will be his third career start. He lost starts at Ohio and at Ball State in 2014.

Kyle Pohl didn't play against SSU due to a head injury suffered against Pitt in week two. A head injury in 2014 is what ultimately led to Pohl, Akron fizzling in the second half, as he was playing well when he went to the turf. His status for Saturday is still unknown.

Conor Hundley hasn't been able to break loose before the Savannah State game, as he carried 12 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. It was the second time in his career that he hit the 100-yard mark in a game. Senior transfer Donnell Alexander had his best day as a Zip, rushing 11 times for 78 yards.

The Akron receiving corps also showed improvements last week that need to carry over to this week if Akron is going to win. Jerome Lane converted to receiver from safety/linebacker just a couple of weeks before the season began, and it has been a good transition so far. His hands aren't great, but he has the size and athleticism to be a huge threat when running with the ball. He caught 3 passes for 99 yards last week, including a 50-yard touchdown pass from Tra Chapman, the first of both of their careers.

Another receiver that has shown great athleticism is Anthony Young, a track star who transferred from Indiana. Young caught 2 passes last week for 81 total yards. The catch that leads me to pointing him out as a possible star-in-the-making was a 28-yarder diving up the field. The speed and athleticism of these two could make them into offensive playmakers for Akron-something Zips fans haven't seen in a long time.


The game begins at 7:00 EST, 6:00 CST and will be streamed on ESPN3.