Game 3: Indiana at Akron.

Akron Zips
2009 record: 1-1 (0-0 in MAC)
2008 record: 5-7
2008 Sagarin:  108

Conference: Mid-American
Coach: JD Brookhart (6th year, 28-34)
Series: IU leads 1-0
TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPNU

On Saturday, IU heads on the road for the first time in 2009.  After opening with two home games, the Hoosiers play three of their next four on the road (@ Akron, @ Michigan, Ohio State, @ Virginia).  While all games and all wins matter, this is a crucial stretch for IU.  Akron is a winnable game, and Virginia has shown little life in its first two games, losses to William & Mary and TCU, both at home.

The trip to Akron, where IU will become the second opponent to visit Akron's new stadium, will be IU's fifth road game against a MAC and the fourth in five years.  Here are the results:

1996: IU 40, Toledo 6

2005: IU 20, Central Michigan 13

2006: IU 24, Ball State 23

2007: IU 37, Western Michigan 27

Akron never has hosted a Big Ten school, and compared to other MAC schools, the Zips are relative newcomers to Division I-A.  Since moving to Division I-A in the late 1980s, Akron is 7-36 against teams from the six major conferences, and five of those wins came against Temple when the Owls were a football-only member of the Big East.  Recently, Akron beat Syracuse 42-28 in 2008 and NC State 20-17 in 2006.  Also, the Zips managed to beat Ohio State in 1894. 

I'm not sure what we really know about the 2009 Akron Zips.  In week one, Akron lost to Penn State, one of the very best teams in college football, 31-7.  In week two, the Zips beat I-AA Morgan State 41-0.  Morgan State, in the last 11 years, has been ranked below 200 in the Sagarin ratings 10 times (out of about 240 Division I football teams in both subdivisions) and never higher than 187.  So, all we know is that Akron is not close to being one of the best teams in Division I, but is much better than the worst teams in college football.  Join the club.

Against Penn State, Akron struggled offensively, making only 8 first downs and gaining 186 yards of total offense.  158 of those yards came in the air, and veteran quarterback Chris Jacquemain was decent enough.  Penn State doubled up Akron in yards per play, 7 to 3.4. 

Black Shoe Diaries covered the game from the Penn State perspective, and makes clear that the statistics do not tell the true story of Penn State's dominance:

The story of the first half was the Nittany Lion defense. The defensive line dominated the Zips not allowing the ball carriers to cross the line of scrimmage, and not allowing Jaczuemain any time to throw. Penn State held Akron to just eight total yards and minus 15 yards rushing and no first downs in the first half.

In other words, nearly all of Akron's 186 yards were accumulated in garbage time.  BSD also provides plenty of detail on Akron's performance against Penn State's defense and offfense.

Against Morgan State, on the other hand, Akron was the heavy.  MSU managed only three first downs and 127 yards of offense.  The Zips, on the other hand, gained 436 yards on offense and punted only once.  Top returning receiver Deryn Bowser caught three touchdown passes.  As I noted in my long-ago preseason look at Akron, the Zips' defense was horrendous in 2008.  Have the Zips turned the corner on defense?  It's impossible to know based on Akron's competition to date, which has either been far ahead or far behind the Zips.  On the other hand, IU's too-close wins over Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan do suggest that a middle-of-the-pack MAC team on the road could challenge the Hoosiers.  As I mentioned in the headlines post earlier, Akron is favored by 4.5 to 5 points in this game.  Conventional wisdom is that homefield advantage is worth about 3 points, so that means Akron would be favored on a neutral field and IU would be a 1.5 to 2 point favorite if this game were in Bloomington. 

More as the week continues.

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