Midweek MACtion is back on Tuesday night, as Akron hosts Eastern Michigan in a matchup of two teams desperate for a win. The Zips are just one of three teams to not record a victory at the FBS level going into Week 12, while the Eagles need a win to stay in the mix for a bowl trip at the end of the season. This game was originally slated to begin at 8 p.m. ET but has been moved up two hours to 6 p.m. ET due to winter weather expected in Ohio.
Eastern Michigan started the 2019 season with a 3-1 record, which included a thrilling, last-minute win over FCS opponent Central Connecticut State and a victory at Illinois (34-31). However, the Eagles have lost four out of their last five games and are just 1-4 in MAC play. Coach Chris Creighton’s team does have a win over rival Western Michigan (34-27) and lost by six points or less to Ball State (six) and Toledo (three). Eastern Michigan is one of the nation’s toughest jobs, but Creighton has guided the Eagles to two bowl trips over the last three years. A third appearance is within reach, especially if Eastern Michigan can win its last three games – at Akron, at Northern Illinois and Kent State.
Akron is in the midst of a rebuild under new coach Tom Arth. The Ohio native should be a good long-term fit for the program, but the Zips are struggling in 2019. Akron has lost eight of its nine games by double digits and has scored only nine points over the last four contests. Winning a game the rest of the way isn’t going to be easy for Arth’s squad. After Tuesday’s matchup versus Eastern Michigan, the Zips play at Miami (Ohio) and host Ohio to close out the 2019 season.
Akron holds a 19-13 series edge over Eastern Michigan. The Eagles have won five out of the last seven matchups against the Zips.
Eastern Michigan at Akron
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: Eastern Michigan -17
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
Eastern Michigan’s offense will be looking to get back on track after scoring just 14 points in the team’s last game against Buffalo. However, prior to the loss versus the Bulls, the Eagles scored 30 points in back-to-back games.
Creighton’s offense struggled to get its ground game going last season and hasn’t fared much better in 2019. Eastern Michigan is averaging less than 100 yards a contest (99.4) on the ground, with running back Shaq Vann (351) leading the team in that category. Vann has only one 100-yard game this season but that could change on Tuesday night. Akron ranks ninth in the MAC versus the run and is surrendering 202.2 yards a contest.
Quarterback Mike Glass III is the catalyst behind Eastern Michigan’s offense, and his play over the next three games will be a huge factor in whether or not this team will go bowling this season. The senior ranks second in the MAC in total offense per game (273.1) and has accounted for 21 total touchdowns. Just how important is Glass to Eastern Michigan’s offense? The Eagles lead the MAC in passing yards per game, and the senior has an interesting split in completion percentage when it comes to wins and losses. In Eastern Michigan’s four wins, Glass has connected on 71.1 percent of his throws. In the four losses, the senior is only hitting on 59.5 percent of his passes. Glass has been dealing with an injury recently, but backup Preston Hutchinson is capable of keeping this offense on track after throwing for 462 yards in five appearances this year.
Eastern Michigan has a deep group of receivers in place on the outside, which should help Glass or Hutchinson take advantage of an Akron secondary that ranks 11th in the MAC in pass efficiency. Arthur Jackson (28 catches), Quian Williams (36), Mathew Sexton (29) and Dylan Drummond (39) figure to be a tough matchup for the Zips on the outside.
Despite an anemic offense and being placed into tough situations, Akron’s defense is holding teams to 5.4 yards a play. The defensive statistics are skewed a bit by this unit’s struggles versus the run, as the Zips have faced only 227 passing attempts this year. While the per-play total is respectable, Akron is giving up 35.7 points a contest and has generated only six sacks all year.
When Akron Has the Ball
The stat sheet hasn’t been kind to Akron’s offense this season. The Zips are averaging 10.2 points and 4.5 yards a play over nine contests. However, those totals dip to 4.1 yards a snap and 6.6 points per contest in MAC play. Akron has only 33 points over its five MAC games this season.
The problems for Akron’s offense are numerous, but Arth has to address the line and get more consistency out of the quarterbacks to develop the offense. The Zips have allowed a whopping 40 sacks over nine contests, and this unit has struggled to clear lanes for running backs. This offense is averaging just 1.9 yards per carry and has not scored a rushing touchdown in MAC play. Quarterback Kato Nelson entered the season with All-MAC potential after accounting for 2,456 total yards and 16 overall scores last fall. However, Nelson was suspended for two games and is only completing 55.3 percent of his throws for 1,330 yards this year. Robbie Kelley has attempted 26 passes, but Zach Gibson (38 of 70 for 402 yards) got the call when Nelson was suspended. Nate Stewart (34 catches), Jeremiah Knight (19), Michael Mathison (31) and Julian Hicks (20) form a capable group of options on the outside.
Arth has tried a couple of different running backs, but the struggles up front have prevented all rushers from finding success. Brandon Lee is the team’s leading rusher with just 172 yards, but Michiah Burton (99), Decavilon Reese (43), and Peter Hayes-Patrick (36) are in the mix for carries. Deltron Sands ranks third among running backs with 91 rushing yards but has not played in three games.
Eastern Michigan led the MAC in scoring defense last season but has slipped to 10th going into Tuesday night’s matchup. The Eagles had to replace a chunk of talent off last year’s roster and have struggled to replicate the 2018 production this fall. A retooled front seven is giving up 209.3 rushing yards a game, and this unit is allowing 6.2 yards a play and 10 more points a contest (33.2) than it did last fall (22.1). Eastern Michigan ranks near the bottom of the MAC in sacks (14), and despite having a couple of standouts in the secondary – cornerback Kevin McGill and safeties Brody Hoying and Vince Calhoun – ranks 10th in the league versus the pass. While Eastern Michigan’s defense clearly isn’t up to last year’s level, it may not matter against Akron’s struggling offense.
The weather forecast has added a layer of uncertainty to this matchup, as the conditions may not be ideal for the offenses. For different reasons, both teams really need a victory on Tuesday night. Akron should play hard to avoid a winless season, but Eastern Michigan also needs a win to stay alive for a bowl bid. The Eagles aren’t as strong defensively as last season. However, with Glass (or Hutchinson) leading the offense, they should be able to muster more than enough points to keep Akron from getting its first win of the season.
Prediction: Eastern Michigan 27, Akron 10
(Top photo courtesy of Eastern Michigan Athletics)