OVERVIEW: The Zips are 1-4 overall and 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference, but Akron has played better than that record would indicate. The Zips struggled in their opener, losing 56-14 to Central Florida, then lost in overtime at Florida International. Akron beat FCS school Morgan State 66-6 (a team BG also beat handily last season, if you remember), then played very well at Tennessee before eventually falling 47-26. Last week the Zips got into a shootout with Miami before losing 56-49.
OFFENSE: The Zips lead the MAC in scoring offense with their average of 38.6 points per game, and their 492.4 yards of total offense per contest also is the league’s best mark. Akron is doing it mostly through the air, passing for 361.8 yards per game to also top the MAC. Senior quarterback Dalton Williams has completed 153-of-243 passes (63 percent) for 1,679 yards and 14 touchdowns but also has seven interceptions. He leads the MAC in yards, TDs and picks. His favorite target is senior Marquelo Suel, who has caught 40 passes for 457 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore L.T. Smith is next with 22 catches for 211 yards and two scores, while junior Dee Frieson has 20 catches for 168 yards. The Zips already have 17 different players who have caught at least one pass (for comparison’s sake, BG has 12). The rushing attack is led by sophomore Jawon Chisholm, who has run for 398 yards and a pair of TDs in five games. The offensive line is led by three seniors: the right side has Adam Bice at tackle and Mitch Straight at guard, while fellow senior Vinnie Rizzo starts at left guard. A fourth upperclassman starts on the line in junior left tackle Jarrod Pughsley.
DEFENSE: As you might expect, the Zips record is to a great degree the result of the team’s struggles on defense. Akron ranks next-to-last in the 13-team MAC in scoring defense, allowing 41.2 points per game), and is ninth in total defense by allowing 473.0 yards per game. UA ranks seventh in the MAC against the rush (193.2 ypg) and ninth against the pass 279.8 (ypg). Leading the defense has been senior MLB Kurt Mangum, who has a team-high 33 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. “Will” LB Troy Gilmer, a senior, is third on the team with 29 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, while freshman Dylan Evans has made 15 tackles as the starting “sam” LB. The secondary is led by sophomore safety Johnny Robinson, who is second on the team with 31 tackles, while the cornerbacks are upperclassmen in senior Avis Commack (19 tackles, one interception) and junior Malachi Freeman (22 tackles, three PBU). Senior J.D. Griggs and junior Albert Presley anchor the defensive line from the end positions, and each has 6.5 tackles for loss (Griggs also has 4.5 sacks).
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Zips rank eighth in the MAC in punting with an “net” average of 34.5 yards per kick. Freshman Zach Paul does the punting and averages 44.2 yards per kick. … Freshman Robert Stein does all the kicking. He has made all but one of his 24 PAT kicks and is 6-of-9 on field goals, with a long of 45 yards. He is 4-for-6 inside the 40-yard line; four of his six “makes” came against Tennessee. … Stein and Paul have split the kickoff duties, with Stein averaging 48.0 yards per kickoff while Paul averages 60.6 yards per kickoff and has had touchbacks on eight of his 20 kickoffs. The Zips rank ninth in the MAC in kickoff coverage with a “net” of 40.4 yards per kickoff. … Freshman Imani Davis has handled nine of Akron’s 11 punt returns and averages 13.4 yards per return, thanks in large part to a 52-yard return. … Sophomore Tyler Williams has seen of the Zips’ 17 kickoff returns and averages 16.7 yards per return. As a team Akron ranks 12th in kickoff returns with an average of 17.4 yards.
BG KEYS TO VICTORY: 1. This is not pass-fail. While the Zips are able to run the ball, their passing game is what has kept them in games. The key isn’t necessarily to stop the passing game; it is important to limit the damage in terms of yards after the catch and perhaps create turnovers. 2. Get it in gear. Akron has struggled on defense and allowed opponents to have success both running and passing the ball. The Falcons need to have success on offense, both driving the ball and scoring when the opportunity presents itself, especially if the game turns into a shootout. 3. Special teams must be special. The Falcons have shown glimpses of high performance on special teams, but also have struggled at times. Getting the punting game going is important because it can force the Zips to mount and sustain long drives if done well, and getting the kicking game right will eventually be important. And the return game has the potential to score points but must at least affect field position positively.