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Redshirt freshman, Kurtis Rourke (7), hands the ball off to De’Montre Tuggle (24) during the home game against the Akron Zips. (FILE)

Football: What to know about Ohio's first Mid-American Conference opponent, Akron

Ohio dives into the meat of its schedule Saturday when it travels to face Akron at InfoCision Stadium for both its first conference and division game of the season.

The Bobcats (0-4, 0-0 Mid-American Conference) are limping off a 35-6 loss to Northwestern last week, and their inconsistencies on both offense and defense hampered them throughout their nonconference schedule.

However, Akron (1-3, 0-0 MAC) hasn’t fared much better in its first four games. It lost to both of its Power 5 opponents — Auburn and Ohio State — by 50 points or more and lost by three touchdowns to Temple. 

Ohio needs a win. It might be able to squeeze one out against Akron on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at the Zips ahead of Saturday’s matchup:

All-time series: Ohio leads, 22-11-1.

Last time they met: Nov. 10, 2020. Ohio won 24-10, carried on the back of De’Montre Tuggle’s 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Kurtis Rourke, then in his second career start, finished the game 8-of-14 with 92 passing yards.

Akron report: Tom Arth is in his third season commanding the Zips, but his tenure hasn’t brought much success. The Zips have only won two games under Arth, one of those being to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Bryant in mid-September.

The Zips are ninth in the MAC for total offense, averaging 323.3 yards and just 19 points per game. Much of that yardage comes thanks to quarterback DJ Irons, who leads the team with 649 yards passing and 182 yards rushing. Irons has started in the Zips’ last two games, usurping the starting role from redshirt senior Kato Nelson.

Akron’s defense, on the other hand, has been flimsy at best. It allows an average of 453.3 total yards and 44.5 points per game, making it one of the weakest in the MAC. All three of its losses have been by 21 points or more. Like Ohio, Akron has also struggled to turn the ball over this season. In four games, its defense has only managed one interception and one fumble recovery. 

How Ohio beats Akron: Locking down Irons is the first step. Ohio’s had trouble dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks in the past, but Irons has been intercepted three times and sacked 13 times in four games. If Ohio’s defense holds Irons down, much of Akron’s offensive production vanishes.

Third-down conversions are another must. Ohio ranks 123rd among Football Bowl Subdivision teams with a 27.91% conversion rate. Akron’s opponents have been able to convert on third down 55% of the time this season. If there’s a time for Ohio to work out its kinks on third down, it's Saturday.

Stat to know: 5-1. Ohio has only lost one game at InfoCision Stadium since it opened in 2009. Its only loss at the stadium came in 2017 to an Akron team that went on to play in the MAC Championship game that year.

Player to watch: Bubba Arslanian, linebacker, No. 27

Arslanian leads Akron’s defense with 43 tackles, nearly 20 more than any other Akron defender. He hasn’t recorded a sack yet, but he posted a career-high three sacks last season in just six games. 

The redshirt junior has been a crick in the neck for Ohio in the past. In Ohio’s last game against Akron, Arslanian sacked both Rourke and Armani Rogers for a combined 10 yards. 


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