Tuesday's tripleheader of MACtion kicks off with a game between the Eastern Michigan Eagles and Akron Zips. EMU (5-3, 2-3 MAC) is playing for bowl eligibility against an Akron (1-8, 0-5) team that has lost eight in a row.
Outside of back-to-back victories to start October, Eastern Michigan has alternated between wins and losses this season. Two Saturdays ago, the Eagles hung tough with West Division-leading Toledo before falling 27-24 at home. EMU is 3-1 away from Ypsilanti, including an upset of Arizona State (30-21) earlier this season and victories over Western Michigan (45-23) and Ball State (20-16) in MAC play.
Akron hasn't won since defeating FCS St. Francis (Pa.) in the season opener. Even though they are winless in conference games, the Zips have been close a couple of times. Three of their losses have been by seven points or fewer. But overall, they have been outscored by 55 points in conference games alone.
Besides improving to .500 in MAC play, a win for Eastern Michigan on Tuesday night would make the Eagles bowl eligible for the fourth straight full season (not including COVID-shortened 2020 season) and the fifth time overall in head coach Chris Creighton's nine-year tenure. Prior to Creighton taking over, EMU had been to one bowl game in its 39 years as an FBS program.
Eastern Michigan at Akron
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
The Eagles have used two different quarterbacks this season, mainly due to injuries, and both bring different elements to the offense. Taylor Powell, a transfer from Troy who spent his first three years at Missouri, is more of a traditional, dropback passer while Austin Smith provides a running threat. Both played in the loss to Toledo two Saturdays ago, although neither was particularly effective — combining to go 12-for-23 for 76 yards and an interception.
Instead, running back Samson Evans was the bulk of the offense for the EMU against the Rockets, finishing with 88 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the 27-24 loss. Evans is tied for the MAC lead with nine touchdowns on the ground and is fourth with 722 rushing yards. But he's also by far the Eagles' most productive ball carrier. As a team, EMU is averaging 139.1 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry, and has scored 17 times on the ground.
The good news is that Eastern Michigan should be able to move the ball on the ground or through the air against an Akron defense that is giving up 6.5 yards per play and more than 400 yards per game to conference foes. The Zips also are last in scoring defense (34.8 ppg in MAC-only games), so the Eagles should be able to do better than their season average (27 ppg) in that department.
When Akron Has the Ball
The Zips' offense goes through dual-threat quarterback DJ Irons. He's second in the MAC in passing yards (279.4 per game) and is completing 67 percent of his attempts. But he has just nine touchdowns compared to six interceptions. He's also the team's leading rusher, but that's with 282 yards on 124 carries (2.3 ypc). Cam Wiley (214 yds., 2 TDs) and Clyde Price III (183, 5) are the only others with more than 22 yards on the ground, which is why Akron is 129th in the nation in rushing offense at just 73.3 yards per game. Keep in mind that EMU's Evans is averaging more than 90 rushing yards per game by himself.
With the Zips so reliant on throwing the ball, look for Shocky Jacques-Louis, Alex Adams, and Daniel George to be busy. Each of these wide receivers ranks in the top 10 in the conference in receptions while combining for 1,895 yards. Adams has a team-high five touchdowns while Jacques-Louis, a Pitt transfer, paces the MAC with 770 receiving yards.
Eastern Michigan hasn't given up a bunch of yards through the air (219.3 per game) this season but has surrendered 18 touchdowns while recording just four interceptions. Akron's inability to run the ball should allow the Eagles to focus more attention on coverage while trying to take advantage of a leaky Zips offensive line that has yielded 48 sacks, by far the most (Tulsa is next with 35) of any FBS team. EMU has collected just 14 sacks this season, the second fewest in the MAC (Akron has 13), but one Eagle to definitely watch is defensive end Jose Ramirez. He is tied for second in the conference with eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss.
Eastern Michigan has been up and down throughout this season, but there have been more highs than lows, and the Eagles are on the doorstep of another bowl berth. Akron hasn't won since its opener and pretty much nothing is going right for the Zips. They can't score (18.6 ppg, 119th nationally) and can't stop teams from scoring (37.0 ppg, 125th), which is a bad combination. EMU has more than proved its mettle on the road this season (see win at Arizona State on Sept. 17) and simply won't be denied of its postseason-clinching sixth victory on Tuesday night in InfoCision Stadium.
Prediction: Eastern Michigan 34, Akron 20
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