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Indiana vs Akron: Football Q&A with Hustle Belt

Getting to know the Zips.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Akron at Kentucky Photo by Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Indiana football set to take on Akron under the lights at home on Saturday, we reached out to our friends at Hustle Belt, specialists in all things MAC, for some info on the Zips.

Courtesy of John Elrod, let’s talk midamerica football.

Right out of the gate, what are Akron’s strengths and weaknesses?

Last year, many of Akron’s weaknesses were on defense, while the strengths were on offense. That has been flipped in the first three games this year. The defense has been particularly good this season at stopping the run, holding opponents to just 3.1 yards per carry. The pass rush could be a bit better, but Akron has been solid on third down, holding opponents to about a 36 percent conversion rate. The Zips also have six turnovers, the biggest being a scoop and score to avoid an upset late in the fourth against FCS Morgan State.

To put it nicely, the offense has plenty of room for improvement. The poor ground game has made the Zips essentially one-dimensional on that side of the ball. Joe Moorhead brought in two new running backs in transfers Drake Anderson (Arizona) and Lorenzo Lingard (Florida) but it hasn’t worked out so far between those two behind an O-line that is also reeling. The Zips are dead last in the FBS in rushing yards per game and yards per carry. Despite some questions with pass protection, the air attack should have enough pieces in place to succeed behind QB DJ Irons and a couple of experienced receivers but hasn’t shown much yet.

The Zips are coached by Joe Moorhead, who’s had stops at Penn State, Mississippi State and Oregon, among others. He’s obviously an offensive guy, but what does that look like in Akron so far?

Moorhead’s resume is interesting. He’s been at the helm of some explosive offenses, especially at Penn State and Oregon as the OC. His short run as head coach at Mississippi State included some questions about his ability to lead a team. I have no idea about Moorhead’s leadership, but there are some big football concerns right now. One of them is that the offense hasn’t been clicking at nearly the level other Moorhead offenses have in the past. Much of it is about the guys on the field — it’s much harder to pull in talent at a school that doesn’t have the Power Five brand. Still, you don’t need Saquon Barkley to succeed in the MAC. Moorhead got some positive things going with last year’s offense (mostly the passing game), but if the offense remains this poor in 2023, some tough questions will be asked.

What players on both sides of the ball should Indiana have circled in meeting rooms this week?

The stars on defense have been in the front seven. Linebackers Bryan McCoy and Antavious Fish have been all over the field helping stop the run. Defensive end CJ Nunnally IV is starting to break out as a key player for Akron after transferring this year from a Last Chance U (Independence Community College). On offense, DJ Irons should be the guy we see under center in Bloomington. He was replaced by backup Jeff Undercuffler against Morgan State in Week 2 for unknown reasons but returned to play most of the game last week at Kentucky. He’s elusive in the pocket and historically hasn’t been afraid to air the ball out. Receivers Daniel George and Jasiah Gathings have been the two primary pass catchers so far.

MAC teams are nothing to take lightly, frequently taking on Big Ten opponents and coming away with a fair amount of upsets. What usually works in the conference’s favor in those instances?

Disruption caused by the defense is often the key for MAC schools in upsets over Big Ten schools. Creating chaos bodes well for underdogs, and big defensive plays are great chaos catalysts. This was the case when Akron defeated Northwestern in 2018 (their last win over a Big Ten school), had not one, but two pick-sixes en route to a win in Evanston. The 2023 Zips defense can create chaos, and the way the offense is struggling, that’s likely what they need to upset the Hoosiers.

Do you have a prediction for Saturday’s game?

I predict Akron will come into this game highly motivated and bring some of that chaos on the defensive end. I could see this being a close game as halftime approaches, but I don’t see the Zips offense being able to string enough positive plays together. Indiana has a solid defense that won’t make things easier on Akron. I got the Hoosiers winning this one 23-7.