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Akron Players to Watch: D.J. Irons and Bubba Arslanian

D.J. Irons and Bubba Arslanian are bright spots on an otherwise overmatched team.

Irons is a dual-threat QB who could look to exploit a thus-far dreadful Ohio State defense
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Let’s call it like it is, folks. This is Akron week… which is to say, unless a natural disaster strikes, there will be a football game between the Akron Zips and your Ohio State Buckeyes. I can’t put any extra sauce on it. Akron is not a good football team. The Zips have not had a winning season since 2015, and the team is 2-19 under current coach Tom Arth. This team gives up a whole lot of points, and doesn’t score nearly as many. I am of course stating the obvious, but it was shocking to see that Akron gave up over 55 points per game in 2020! Holy Toledo… sorry, poor choice of northern Ohio cities.

Akron got off to an equally unimpressive start this season, giving up 60 points to Auburn in Week 1. They then surrendered 45 to Temple in Week 2, and after two weeks, the Zips are ranked last, or nearly last, in nearly every defensive categories.

The team was outscored 105-34 during those two games and seemed to be heading towards a repeat of 2019, when they went 0-12. However, the Zips showed resolve in Week 3, taking down… checks notes… Bryant. Yes, the world famous football institution, Bryant. In doing so, the team found a new starting quarterback and held their opponent to only 146 yards of total offense. The boys are buzzing!

In fairness, it should be pointed out that after stifling Bryant, Akron is currently 85th in the country in total defense — while Ohio State sits at 118th. Pot, kettle, black… yeah, let’s move on.

Look, Akron is trying to build something. Arth was successful at lower level John Carroll, and maybe he gets this thing going. Just don’t expect it to be this week, or presumably this season. The Buckeyes should roll this team, as long as they do not attempt to sleepwalk through the game like those damned 1894 Buckeyes did. Akron walked into Columbus only 127 short years ago and upset Ohio State in a shootout (12-6). Since then, OSU has righted the ship against Akron.

Despite the blowouts that have incurred, and the poor record recently, the Zips do have a few players to watch out for. They may not greatly impact the final score, but the quarterback in particular could expose current defensive weaknesses for the Buckeyes. On the defensive side of the ball, Akron has a linebacker who is currently tied for third in the county in total tackles per game. The Zips should not present a challenge for the Buckeyes, but while watching this Saturday night prime timer, keep an eye on this week’s Players to Watch.

Akron quarterback D.J. Irons has been a bright spot during an otherwise gloomy start to the season. The JUCO transfer split time with Kato Nelson for the first two games, before being named the starter against Bryant. Irons was the more impressive QB during those first two games, but Nelson is a fifth-year senior who was productive prior to missing the 2020 season. He appeared rusty in return to the field, while Irons gave the coaches no other choice. Irons was handed the keys against Bryant, and perhaps not so coincidentally, the Zips earned their first win.

Irons is a tall, lanky quarterback who arrived at Akron via Eastern Kentucky and Iowa Central. While not previously experienced at the FBS level, he did start 11 games for Iowa Central and found moderate success. He threw for 21 touchdowns to only five interceptions, and showed ability as a runner. Irons’ dual-threat ability has proven to be legitimate at a higher level, and it seems as if the Zips are prepared to ride it out with him as the starter.

Through three games (again, just one start), Irons has accrued a rather impressive stat line. He is completing 76% of his passes, including a 13-for-13 game at Auburn. He has a touchdown to interception ratio of 5:1 and is also the team’s leading rusher. Irons has racked up 165 yards on the ground, but that total is skewed by the Bryant game, in which he ran for 136.

All in all, Irons is a solid athlete who seems to take care of the ball. Ohio State has athletes all over the field to stop Irons, but their defense has not proven capable of doing so… yet. However, if the Buckeyes play even close to their potential, they should put the clamps on Akron’s quarterback.

While his numbers are impressive, his 300/100 game was against Bryant, and he completed 13-of-13 passes in a 60-10 blowout. This OSU defense needs to rediscover its swagger, and stopping a dual-threat athlete coming off of a career game would be a nice start.

On the defensive side of the ball, Akron has been beaten up… repeatedly and consistently over the last few seasons. Ohio State should be able to move the ball up and down the field, but we will be seeing a new quarterback, and confidence (both his and Ryan Day’s) could prove to be a factor in the plays being called. At least initially, I foresee a heavy emphasis on the ground game, and that is where Zips linebacker Bubba Arslanian could make an impact.

Bubba Arslanian has a great linebacker name and an equally great nose for the ball
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Arslanian is a tackling machine. He finished the 2019 season with 125 total tackles, good for an average of 10.4 per game. That was good for ninth in the country, and all he has done since then is bump that number up to 12 per game. He was credited with 72 in six games last season, and sits at 37 through Akron’s first three in 2021. Twelve tackles per game currently puts him in the top-5 nationally, and approximately one billion spots above any Ohio State linebacker.

Arslanian is small (5-foot-9, 205 pounds) and doesn’t impact the game much with sacks and/or turnovers. He only has five sacks in 29 career games, and maybe that is because he is not asked to rush very often. But, he has also never intercepted a pass, and only has two forced fumbles to his name.

Those flashy numbers aside, Arslanian is still likely to be a thorn in Ohio State’s side. What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in effort and technique. He may not catch TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, or Master Teague III from behind, but he is plenty capable of stopping them dead in their tracks.

Irons and Arslanian are guys to keep an eye on regardless of spread or predictions. They are coming to The Shoe to play hard and make memories for themselves and their teammates. Based on what we’ve seen from the Buckeyes, is it unreasonable to think that each of these players could make a few big plays on Saturday? Here’s hoping Ohio State is able to put the clamps on Irons and run away from Arslanian.