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Ohio State vs. Akron: 2021 game preview and prediction

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The Buckeyes are huge favorites ahead of Saturday night’s meeting with the Akron Zips at Ohio Stadium

Akron v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Ohio State wraps up their non-conference schedule on Saturday night when they host the Akron Zips. The Buckeyes are heavy favorites ahead of their ninth all-time meeting with the Zips. Ohio State carries a 7-1 record against Akron into this game, with the lone win by the Zips coming all the way back in 1894. The last time these teams met came back in 2011 when the Buckeyes shutout Akron 42-0.


Last time out

Last week Ohio State sluggishly defeated Tulsa 41-20 at Ohio Stadium. While the Buckeyes won by three touchdowns, the game was a little closer than the final score indicated. Ohio State only led the Golden Hurricanes by a touchdown before Garrett Wilson caught a touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud with just under four minutes remaining in the game, and Cam Martinez’s returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown a couple minutes later.


Best in the Buckeye State

Ohio State will now look to extend their unbeaten streak against other Ohio teams to 51 games. The Buckeyes haven’t lost to an in-state foe since Oberlin beat Ohio State 100 years ago. This will be the 30th game against another Ohio team since 1992 after the Buckeyes didn’t play any Ohio teams from 1935-1991. Overall, Ohio State is 189-51-15 against other teams from Ohio.


Columbus nights

Saturday night’s game will be the 23rd under the lights at Ohio Stadium. Last year the Buckeyes played Rutgers at night in Columbus, but this will be the first night game with fans in attendance at The Horseshoe since Ohio State defeated Michigan State 34-10 in 2019. The Buckeyes are 17-5 in primetime at Ohio Stadium.


Tre’ Day

The biggest headline of last week’s game was the performance of TreVeyon Henderson. The true freshman running back tightened his grip on the starting running back job, setting an Ohio State freshman record by rushing for 277 yards. Henderson broke Archie Griffin’s record of 239 rushing yards, which the two-time Heisman Trophy winner set against North Carolina in 1972. The Virginia native now has three plays that have gone for over 50 yards this season, which leads the country.

The outstanding performance not only earned Henderson Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, but also saw him named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. Ohio State has now earned the last three Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week honors, with C.J. Stroud earning the accolades for his performances against Minnesota and Oregon.


Some fresh blood

After putting up big numbers in the first two games of the season, C.J. Stroud had trouble finding any traction against Tulsa, completing 15 of 25 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. While there have been moments of brilliance for Stroud in his first three starts, there have also been moments where he has looked like the freshman that he is.

Stroud has reportedly been dealing with a shoulder injury, which can explain some of his inaccuracy at times. With Ohio State jumping back into Big Ten play next week, it makes sense for Ryan Day to not only make sure his quarterback is as healthy as possible ahead of the grind, but also to try and get some of the other quarterbacks a little game action in case they are needed over the next two months.


Still the best

No matter who is taking snaps for Ohio State, they’ll have the best group of wide receivers in the country to work with. Garrett Wilson leads the Buckeyes with 19 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns. The junior wide receiver has now caught a pass in 24 straight games. Wilson is now eight receptions shy of reaching 100 catches during his time in the scarlet and gray.

While Wilson extended his consecutive games with a catch streak, Chris Olave saw his 17-game streak with at least one catch snapped. Olave was so close to keeping his personal streak going, as he caught a 47-yard pass from Stroud in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the play was erased after offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. was called for a face mask. The senior wideout enters this week’s game with 16 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns this year.

The only other Buckeye who has eclipsed 100 yards receiving this year is Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who has 190 yards receiving and two touchdowns on 11 receptions. With Ohio State likely being able to move the football against one of the worst teams in the nation, we could see guys like Julian Fleming, Emeka Egbuka, and Marvin Harrison Jr. seeing more targets in Saturday night’s game.


Another wonder from down under

Even though the last thing the Ohio State offense wants to do is turn the football over to punter Jesse Mirco, the freshman from Australia is pinning opponents deep when he has been called on. Mirco has been following in the footsteps of recent great Buckeye punters Cameron Johnston and Drue Chrisman, dropping five of his last six punts inside the 20-yard-line of opponents. It should come as much of a surprise that Mirco is already feeling comfortable in Columbus, as he is from ProKick Australia, which is the same program that developed Johnston before he came to Ohio State.


Production not matching talent

There’s no question that Ohio State’s defense isn’t fulfilling expectations so far this year. A big reason the Buckeyes haven’t been able to impose their will on opponents is because of their lack of a pass rush. Through three games this year, Ohio State has only recorded four sacks. A far cry from recent Buckeye defenses that saw defensive ends like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young getting after quarterbacks with pretty much every snap of the football.

Last week we did see a little bit of an improvement from the defensive line when it comes to the pressure they were able to create, with Antwaun Jackson and Tyleik Williams registering sacks. It’s possible that more pressure could have been created had Zach Harrison not been unavailable for the game. Ohio State is going to need even more from their defensive line, especially considering the talent they have with Tyreke Smith, Haskell Garrett, and highly-touted freshmen Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau.


Still finding their footing

The lack of pressure from the defensive line has exposed some of the inexperience of Ohio State’s linebackers. The group looked even greener last week since senior Teradja Mitchell wasn’t available to play in the game. In the first two games of the season, Mitchell ranked second on the defense with 21 tackles. Cody Simon sits behind Mitchell with 16 tackles. The depth of the group took a hit this week when Dallas Gant announced he is entering the transfer portal.


Making progress

Even though they have up over 400 yards passing last week, the defensive backs have been solid this year for Ohio State. So far this year, the Buckeyes pass breakups through three games. By comparison, all of last year Ohio State had just 31 pass breakups. Leading the way for the defensive backs is true freshman Denzel Burke, who has six pass breakups, while Cameron Brown has recorded five pass breakups in the two games he has been active for.

We could see the defensive backs gain even more confidence going forward since Sevyn Banks was able to make his season debut against Tulsa, registering 25 snaps against the Golden Hurricanes. With Banks and Brown getting back on the field, as well as young Buckeyes Burke and Cam Martinez making big plays, Ohio State does have some quality depth they can lean on at cornerback.

The one area in the defensive backfield that was a concern for Ohio State after the Oregon game was at safety after it was revealed that Josh Proctor would miss the rest of the season due to injury. Luckily the Buckeyes have had a couple players step up to try and fill Proctor’s role. Ronnie Hickman currently leads Ohio State with 31 tackles, while Lathan Ransom has a couple pass breakups and a forced fumble this year. Martinez can also slip back into one of the safety spots if needed, which will help to try and fill the void left by Proctor.


Awful Akron

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Akron isn’t a very good team. The Zips are 1-2 so far this year, with their only win coming last week against Bryant, who they beat 35-14. In losses in their first two games of the year to Auburn and Temple, Akron was outscored 105-34. The only win for Akron against a FBS team since 2019 came last year when they beat Bowling Green 31-3.


Terry to Tom

While Akron is undoubtedly a tough place to win at, Terry Bowden was able to win at least four games a year from 2013-18. Tom Arth hasn’t been able to come anywhere close to that win total, amassing just a 2-19 record with the Zips in three seasons. Arth does have Ohio ties after playing and coaching at John Carroll, but it hasn’t helped him find any success at his first FBS coaching stop. Arth is going to have to do a lot of work if he is going to lead Akron to their fourth bowl appearance in school history.


Irons in the fire

At least the win over Bryant allowed for one Akron player to earn some honors. Redshirt sophomore quarterback DJ Irons was named the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week after recording 432 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Currently Irons is ranked second in the NCAA with a 75.9% completion percentage. After Kato Nelson started the first two games of the year, it looks like Irons made the most of his opportunity last week.


Day late and a Dollard short

After a 2020 season that saw him rush for 666 yards and six touchdowns, it looked like Teon Dollard was going to shoulder the load at running back for the Zips this year. Unfortunately for Akron, Dollard was indicted on a felony weapons charge in the offseason, which led to his removal from the football team a month ago.

Akron has had a hard time getting much going on the ground without Dollard. Irons is currently Akron’s leading rusher with 165 yards on 31 carries. The only actual running back with over 100 yards on the season is Jonzell Norrils, who is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry on 36 totes of the football. Anthony Williams Jr. has added 85 yards on 21 carries.


Prime targets

It’s pretty obvious who the main target of Irons and Nelson has been so far this season. Sophomore wide receiver Michael Mathison has caught 18 passes for 230 yards and a touchdowns through three games. Konata Mumpfield is the only other Akron wide receiver with double digit receptions and over 100 yards receiving this year. Mumpfield has two touchdown catches, with one coming in each of the last two games.


The turnstiles

If Ohio State’s defensive line is going to create some momentum ahead of Big Ten play, going up against the Akron offensive line is a good place to start. The Zips have allowed 25 tackles for loss and 11 sacks through three games this year. Auburn was especially able to create havoc in the backfield against Akron, recording 13 TFLs and six sacks. While Irons has shown to be a mobile quarterback, if the Buckeyes aren’t able to move Akron’s line, it could be a long year for the Ohio State defensive front line.


Bubba and his buds

The most notable unit on defensive for Akron is their linebackers. Bubba Arslanian always seems to find his way to the football. The junior linebacker has 249 tackles in 32 games during his time at Akron. Arslanian was a 2021 first team All-MAC pick by Phil Steele, and so far has lived up to the lofty expectations, registering 37 tackles. Expect to hear Arslanian’s name early and often on Saturday night.

Complimenting Arslanian at linebacker is Jeslord Boateng and Michael Scott. Boateng is second on the Zips with 21 tackles this year, with four of those stops coming behind the line of scrimmage. Not only does Scott lead Akron with two sacks this year, he is responsible for the lone turnover the Zips have forced, recovering a fumble last week against Bryant.


Summary

There’s no reason that this game should be close. If it is, Ohio State is in a lot more trouble than we thought. After seeing what Auburn and Temple were able to do to the Zips, the Buckeyes shouldn’t have any problem winning this game by at least 40 points.

This biggest goals for this game for Ohio State are going to be to keep everyone healthy, and get a look at some of the players who might not normally see the field. This could be a chance for some of the freshman and sophomores who aren’t really called on to get some time playing under the lights. While a big performance against Akron isn’t going to change their standing on the depth chart, it will at least give them some confidence if their number is called later on in this season where the pressure will be raised a little more.

This is especially true at quarterback. Ryan Day has already planted the seed that we are far more likely to see Kyle McCord and Jack Miller this week than C.J. Stroud. It’s a smart move considering the opponent, as well as what lies ahead for Ohio State. For the Buckeyes to be a contender in the Big Ten, and even in the College Football Playoff race, they’ll need Stroud as healthy as possible, as well as some backups that are comfortable if called upon.

It will also be interesting to see if Miyan Williams is a part of the game plan for Ohio State. While it’s obvious that TreVeyon Henderson is the starter for the Buckeyes, it was puzzling that Williams didn’t even see a carry last week. Was Williams held out because of an injury or is there something more happening behind the scenes? We could get a better idea this week.

LGHL Prediction: Ohio State 62, Akron 7