Eastern Michigan (1-3) at Akron (2-2) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: InfoCision Stadium (30,000) -- Akron, Ohio. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Eastern Michigan 1-0, Akron 1-1. Away Record: Eastern Michigan 0-3, Akron 1-1. Neutral Record: Eastern Michigan 0-0, Akron 0-0. Conference Record: Eastern Michigan 0-0, Akron 0-0. Series Record: Akron leads, 17-12.
GAME NOTES: The Eastern Michigan Eagles were in much need of a bye week following the team's Sept. 20 rout at the hands of Michigan State. Now rested and ready to take the field, they'll travel to face the Akron Zips in the Mid- American Conference opener for both squads at InfoCision Stadium.
Eastern Michigan had a rough experience in non-conference play. Following a three-point win over FCS program Morgan State, the Eagles were heavily dropped at Florida (65-0), Old Dominion (17-3) and Michigan State (73-14) in consecutive contests. They are coming off an open week and will open conference play this weekend with their fourth straight road contest.
Prior to last weekend's game against Pittsburgh, it appeared the Zips were in for a rough three-game stretch. They were downed by Penn State and Marshall in consecutive games, and had a road test against the ACC Panthers. But Akron came away with a huge 21-10 win, evening the team's record at 2-2.
Akron and Eastern Michigan have been playing each other in a series that dates all the way back to 1949. The Zips hold the advantage in the all-time series, 17-12, but last played the Eagles in a 2011, a 31-23 loss.
The bye week for Eastern Michigan was perfect timing. After three straight losses, including two blowouts to exceptional football programs, the Eagles needed some time off, especially after registering only five first downs in the loss to the Spartans. In four games, the EMU offense has only scored 48 combined points (12 ppg average), and is responsible for just 216.5 total ypg. That's not out of the ordinary for a team playing such a difficult non- conference slate.
Rob Bolden was the only player under center in EMU's loss to Michigan State. He completed 10 passes for 115 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Eagles have been inconsistent at the quarterback position, employing at least three players who have all attempted more than 20 passes (two have attempted 41 passes). In four contests, the Eagles are averaging just 82.8 passing ypg.
The running game has been promising from time to time, and is averaging 133.8 rushing ypg with three scores on the ground. Bronson Hill is the main weapon in the run game, gaining 199 yards on 47 carries. Ryan Brumfield has two rushing touchdowns, and Darius Jackson has punched in one score. Tyreese Russell has caught a team-best 13 passes in the receiving game for 109 yards and a touchdown.
As one can expect, it's been hard to gauge exactly how good the Eastern Michigan defense is with all these tough non-conference games. The defense hasn't been good enough to limit Florida or Michigan State, but it did slow down Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Henicke. In four games, the team has allowed 45.8 ppg and 499.3 total offensive ypg.
Linebacker Great Ibe has a team-high 43 tackles so far, helping to pressure the opposing quarterbacks and limit the run game. Defensive lineman Pat O'Connor has 22 tackles with a team-high six for loss and 3.5 sacks. If he can get to Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl and disrupt the Zips' backfield, the Eagles will have much easier time on the road.
Akron traveled to Pittsburgh last weekend as a clear-cut underdog. But after Pitt struck first with an 8-yard touchdown pass, it was all Akron from that point on. The two teams played stellar defense, but two Cody Grice touchdown runs helped the Zips gain a lead and stay comfortably ahead.
Pohl was unspectacular at quarterback, but he did what he needed to in order to pick up the win. He completed 15 passes for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The passing game for Akron isn't overwhelming (268 passing ypg), but Pohl can typically control the tempo of the game.
The ground attack is where the Zips have done the most damage. Grice's two touchdowns against Pittsburgh doubled the number of rushing scores this season for the Zips, but between Grice, Conor Hundley and Jawon Chisholm, Akron can employ a three-headed beast on the ground. And wide receiver Zach D'Orazio (20 receptions, 226 yards) has provided Pohl with a reliable target through the air.
Although the team has only averaged 20.5 ppg through four contests, the defense has done its job in limiting opponents to a mere 19.8 ppg average. Marshall is the only challenger that has scored more than 21 points against Akron this season (48 back on Sept. 20). There's a lot to be said about that, considering the quality of non-conference opponents is relatively high for the Zips this season (Penn State, Marshall and Pittsburgh at the FBS level).
Linebacker Jatavis Brown leads the team with 30 tackles and a 7.5 tackles per game average. His four tackles for loss is second on the team only to defensive lineman Se'Von Pittman's 4.5. Akron is giving up 379 offensive ypg to opponents, and going against an Eastern Michigan offense that has been very quiet shouldn't raise any red flags for the Zips.
Normally an early-season bye week doesn't benefit any team, since it's in the latter half of the year when fatigue and injuries set in. But Eastern Michigan desperately needed time off in order to get a breather from taking beatings. Akron isn't nearly on the same level as Florida or Michigan State, but the Zips will still put up a very strong fight on their home turf. With a strong defensive effort similar to last week against Pittsburgh, Akron will be able to control the game and come away with a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Akron 28, Eastern Michigan 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 4, 2 p.m. (ET)