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Toledo Rockets vs. Akron Zips Preview and Prediction

Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt

November MACtion continues on Wednesday night, as Toledo and Akron look to rebound from disappointing losses in Week 9 and stay in the hunt for a division title and a trip to Detroit for the conference title game in early December. Less than 200 miles separates these MAC foes, but this is the first meeting between the Rockets and Zips since 2013.

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Akron heads into Wednesday night’s clash at 5-4 overall and 3-2 in conference play. The Zips are a game behind Ohio (4-1) in the East and needs one more win to get bowl eligible for the second consecutive year. With a matchup against 1-7 Bowling Green still to come, Akron’s bowl hopes are in good shape. However, the division is a bigger hurdle if coach Terry Bowden’s team loses on Wednesday night, especially after a surprising 41-20 defeat at Buffalo last Thursday. A loss to Toledo would drop the Zips to 3-3 in league play and would give Ohio some extra cushion in the East. In addition to last week’s loss at Buffalo, Akron suffered defeats against Wisconsin, Appalachian State and Western Michigan. There’s no shame in any of those three losses, but the Zips have to get back on track after a disappointing conference defeat against the Bulls.

Just like Akron, Toledo heads into Wednesday night’s matchup with little margin for error. The Rockets were a 16-point favorite against Ohio, yet fell 31-26 last Thursday night. Cleaning up some of the mental mistakes (nine penalties and two turnovers) had to be a priority for coach Jason Candle this week. With a trip to Western Michigan on tap for Nov. 25, Toledo still has time to work its way back into the division title picture. However, the Rockets have no margin for error and can’t afford another loss. After Wednesday’s game at Akron, Toledo takes on Northern Illinois in Chicago and hosts Ball State before the showdown against the Broncos. This is a must-win game for Candle's team. 

The all-time series between Akron and Toledo is tied at nine victories apiece. The Zips have claimed two out of the last three meetings in this series.

Toledo at Akron

Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Toledo -8

Three Things to Watch

1. Akron’s Run Defense

Akron defensive coordinator Chuck Amato has to be having nightmares watching tape on Toledo’s stable of running backs. The Zips are 11th in the MAC against the run, giving up 228.7 rushing yards per game this fall. A deeper look at the numbers only adds to the concerns about this unit. Akron is giving up 5.1 yards per rush and has surrendered at least 378 yards in two out of the last three games. In last week’s loss at Buffalo, the Bulls gashed the Zips for 378 yards and averaged a whopping nine yards a carry. The struggles of the run defense are largely personnel-driven, as Akron entered 2016 having to replace standout linebacker Jatavis Brown and defensive linemen Rodney Coe and Cody Grice. Adding to the troubles in the front seven was an injury to star end Jamal Marcus, who has only two tackles over Akron’s last two games.

Toledo’s ground attack is anchored by senior Kareem Hunt, with Terry Swanson, Damion Jones-Moore and Art Thompkins providing support. Hunt has 790 yards and five scores through eight games and is poised to hit 1,000 yards for the second time in his career. The Rockets have a standout offensive line leading the way in the trenches, paving the way for rushers to average 4.7 yards per carry.

Considering Akron’s troubles against the run last week and throughout the year, the Zips can expect to see a heavy dose of Hunt on Wednesday night. Will Amato’s defense rise to the challenge and match Toledo in the trenches? Or will Hunt break his season high of 146 yards against a porous front seven?

Related: College Football's Post-Week 9 Bowl Projections

2. Toledo QB Logan Woodside

As mentioned above, Akron is going to have its hands full in trying to slow down Toledo’s ground attack. But that’s not all the Zips will have to worry about. The Rockets also bring the MAC’s top passing game (347.1 ypg) to InfoCision Stadium on Wednesday night. Quarterback Logan Woodside has tossed at least three touchdowns in every game this season and passed for 2,715 yards through eight matchups. Additionally, Woodside is completing 71 percent of his throws and has only five picks on 259 attempts. Woodside has a good mix of options available at receiver, with two players catching over 40 passes through eight games. Cody Thompson (21.8 ypc) is tied with tight end Michael Roberts for the team lead in touchdown catches (nine), while Corey Jones (45) leads the team in receptions.

Akron’s secondary ranks 10th in the MAC in pass efficiency defense, but the Zips have held Ball State, Miami, Ohio and Buffalo all under 200 passing yards this season. That’s not exactly the gauntlet of passing attacks and only one team has attempted more than 40 throws against this secondary in 2016. This unit has allowed its share of big plays, surrendering seven completions of 40 or more yards. While the secondary has to play better, Akron needs more from a pass rush that’s registered only 13 sacks in nine games.

Keeping Woodside and his talented group of receivers in check isn’t going to be easy. And needless to say, Akron is probably going to give up its share of yardage. How can the Zips counter? Generating a pass rush is the first priority, but that’s a tough assignment against Toledo’s offensive line (only seven sacks allowed in 2016). Tackling and limiting the big plays are two areas to watch for Akron. Can this unit prevent the Rockets’ 10-yard completions from becoming 50-yard touchdown catches? Akron may have to bend on the yardage between the 20’s but keep Toledo’s offense from scoring touchdowns inside the red zone.

3. Akron’s Passing Attack Against Toledo’s Secondary

Akron’s victory hopes are going to rest on the right arm of junior quarterback Thomas Woodson. A shoulder injury prevented Woodson from playing in three games this year, but he’s passed for 1,763 yards and 16 scores, while adding 38 more on the ground. Just how valuable is Woodson to the success of Akron’s offense? The Zips average 400.6 yards per game, with the junior quarterback accounting for 300.2 total yards a contest. Akron’s ground attack has been sluggish at times (11th in the MAC), so it’s imperative Woodson attacks Toledo’s defense through the air. The Rockets are sixth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and have been prone to giving up big plays (seven of 40 yards or more). Dynamic playmaker JoJo Natson (13.8 ypc) and Jerome Lane (14.6 ypc) should see plenty of targets on Wednesday night. Time of possession isn’t an overly meaningful stat, but the Zips are last in the MAC (25:25). While Akron doesn’t want to prevent Woodson from making plays through the air, some ball control offense and limiting the overall possessions of Toledo wouldn’t be the worst thing for coach Terry Bowden. Regardless of the style of offense Akron chooses to go with, the Zips need Woodson to be at his best.

Final Analysis

Midweek MACtion in November is usually good for a couple of high-scoring, entertaining matchups. This one has the makings for an offensive shootout, as both teams have been exposed at times on defense, and there is no shortage of talent on the other side of the ball. The Rockets rank second in the MAC in fewest points allowed per game (23.5), but this unit gave up 31 to Ohio last week and 35 to a struggling Bowling Green team in mid-October. While Toledo’s defense is going to give up a few big plays, it’s hard to see Akron’s defense finding an answer for the Rockets’ high-powered attack. The Zips will struggle to contain Kareem Hunt on the ground, while Woodside connects on a couple of big passing plays to put this one away in the fourth quarter.

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Prediction: Toledo 41, Akron 30