Tuesday night #MACtion returns this week as the Akron Zips travel to Athens for an East Division clash with the Ohio Bobcats. Akron opened its 2020 season with a 58-13 loss to Western Michigan last week, which stretched the program's losing streak to 18 games. Ohio, which finished 2019 7-6 overall and 5-3 in Mid-American Conference play, is also 0-1 following a 30-27 loss to Central Michigan.
Akron at Ohio
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Ohio -26.5
When Akron Has the Ball
Akron quarterback Kato Nelson has started 25 career games for the Zips, but last week's opener wasn't one of them. Nelson missed time this fall following shoulder surgery and did not appear last week. Instead, Zach Gibson made his third career start and completed 18-of-30 pass attempts for 125 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. T.J. DeShields also saw playing time and completed 1-of-2 passes for one yard. DeShields ran for four yards, and Gibson, who was sacked once, finished with -15 rushing yards on four attempts.
The Zips were also without running back Cole Gest, a transfer from Indiana expected to play a part in improving what was the worst rushing offense in FBS last year. Akron managed just 47.6 rushing yards per game and 1.75 yards per carry in 2019, which dragged down a unit that also ranked dead last in scoring (10.5 points per game). Nevertheless, there were signs of progress, as Teon Dollard ran for 67 yards, including a 45-yarder, and Jeremiah Knight gained 74 rushing yards, including a 24-yarder. Knight, who is listed as a wide receiver, also caught two passes for 18 yards, while Dollard, a junior college transfer in his first game with the team, caught four passes for 10 yards. Michael Mathison led the Zips with six receptions, 44 yards, and was on the receiving end of Gibson's first-quarter, 14-yard touchdown pass.
When Ohio Has the Ball
Kurtis Rourke made his first career start for the Bobcats, replacing his record-setting brother Nathan, and impressed with 231 passing yards and two touchdowns on 12-for-19 passing. Not as gifted a runner as his brother, Rourke finished with -19 rushing yards on eight carries, including two fumbles (one lost). UNLV transfer Armani Rogers competed with Rourke for the job and saw action as well. Rogers ran for 32 yards on seven carries and completed 1-of-3 passes for four yards in his first game with the Bobcats. Though Rogers may continue to have a role, based on his success as a passer, it would appear Rourke will be the primary signal-caller until further notice.
Rourke did most of his damage in the first half last week when he connected with Shane Hooks for a 21-yard touchdown and found Isiah Cox for a 58-yard score. Cox led the Bobcats with 102 receiving yards on four receptions. Hooks finished with three catches for 24 yards and tight end Adam Luehrman caught a pair of 22-yard gains. Running back De'Montre Tuggle opened the season as the primary ball carrier and ran for 79 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Tuggle also scored on a 93-yard kick return. Last year's leading rusher, O'Shaan Allison, was held to 16 yards on four attempts and caught one pass for 13 yards.
Ohio beat Akron 52-3 in the 2019 regular-season finale, and the Bobcats still look like the more complete team based on last week's results. There is plenty of room for improvement, but Ohio is balanced on offense and deep at both running back and quarterback. Defensively, Ohio was tested by a talented Central Michigan offense, and though the Bobcats allowed 427 total yards in the loss, that production was spread across 88 plays (more than any MAC defense faced in its opener). As a result, Ohio ranks fourth in yards per play allowed (4.85) — a big improvement over last year, when the Bobcats surrendered 5.95 yards per snap. Meanwhile, Akron — which ranked fourth in the conference with an average of 5.70 yards allowed per play — was destroyed to the tune of 8.43 yards per play, which is currently the worst in FBS.
Prediction: Ohio 43, Akron 13
(O'Shaan Allison photo by Abigail Dean/Ohio Athletics)