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WEEKNIGHT FOOTBALL: LET THE #MACTION BEGIN
Football every day of the week? Yes, please.
Image from UTRockets.com
It begins: silly season for Mid-American Conference connoisseurs, true football fanatics, hardcore draftniks, minor bowl game fetishists, and degenerate gamblers alike. The time of year when you can watch NFL and/or college football every single night of the week. Go ahead and mix in the CFL, if you’re a real sicko.
Nothing will wash the taste of Buffalo’s mind-numbing 56-44 defensive meltdown against Bowling Green on Saturday, effectively ending any shot the Bulls had at defending their MAC East title, like two straight nights of #MACtion. Let’s take a look at what good Dr. Steinbrecher and the boys in Cleveland cooked up for us tonight.
Ball State (-20) at Akron, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
How does Akron struggle, my friends? Let Robby General of The Muncie Star-Press count the ways:
Akron is susceptible on the ground (217.5 yards against, 21 touchdowns) and through the air (231.63 yards against, 17 touchdowns). Five different opponents — Auburn (316 yards), Ohio State (237 yards), Ohio (398 yards), Miami (Ohio) (245 yards) and Buffalo (231 yards) — have run for more than 200 yards on the Zips this season.
Akron also gives up 38.88 points per game and allows opponents to convert on 52.75% (48 of 91) third down attempts and score touchdowns on 71.43% (25 of 35) red zone visits.
Those of us who follow Buffalo witnessed the Zips (2-6 overall, 1-3 in MAC play) deal with their demons in real time as Bulls QB Kyle Vantrease tossed three TDs, junior RB Dylan McDuffie scampered for 111 yards and a TD, the offense had eight plays that went for 20+ yards, and the defense recorded 11 sacks en route to a 45-10 victory. Akron was held to 304 yards on offense, and turned the ball over four times.
“Like any football coach with extended time on his hands, University of Akron football coach Tom Arth is conducting a deep dive into his team’s first eight games to see what needs to improve,” George Thomas of The Akron Beacon-Journal writes. “If there’s a shred of honesty related to such an exercise, the answer is ‘a lot.’ …The Zips currently rank last in the MAC in scoring defense, 11th in scoring offense and in the bottom third of rushing and passing defense and offense…The Zips average 3.3 yards per carry and the team’s three quarterbacks have been sacked 45 times for losses totaling 257 yards.”
And yet…a 20-point spread seems a bit of a big bite for Ball State (4-4, 2-2) to chew. The BSU offense started the season slow, averaging just over 12 points per game in losses to #22 Penn State, Wyoming, and Toledo before kicking it into high gear in wins over Army, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan, averaging 37 points per game in that stretch.
Then, last week, flying high, the Cardinals crashed into a window, losing 24-17 at home to Miami (Ohio).
Ball State is ranked eighth or lower in the 12-team MAC in total yards per game (334.4), passing yards per game (218.6), rushing yards per game (115.8), and points per game (24.5). Head coach Mike Neu’s bunch does have some sneaky upside: they’re 57th in the country in 3rd down conversions (41%), 42nd in completion percentage (64%), and are 33rd in fewest penalties taken (5.5 per game).
Defensively, the Cardinals are in the top half of the MAC in total yards allowed per game (394), passing yards allowed (236.1), rushing yards allowed (157.9), and points allowed per game (27.9).
Look, I’m pretty confident Ball State’s going to win this game. Akron’s at home, however, all three of their QBs—Kato Nelson, D.J. Irons, and Zach Gibson—are finally healthy at the same time, and I feel like RB Jonzell Norrils and WR Konata Mumpfield have big-game #MACtion potential. As tough as this season’s been for the Zips, they’ve only lost one MAC game by 20+ points and actually beat Bowling Green, 35-20, erasing a 20-0 deficit.
Go Zips! Let’s take BSU to win and Akron to cover at InfoCision Field.
Miami (Ohio) (-7.5) at Ohio, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Miami (4-4, 3-1) might be the turtle that wins the MAC East race. The RedHawks are tied for first place in the division with Kent State, which seems to run hot and cold quarter to quarter and still has tough games against MAC West leader Northern Illinois and equally hot and cold Central Michigan.
Miami, on the other hand, enters a stretch of its schedule that includes consecutive games against massively disappointing Ohio (1-7, 1-3), a Buffalo defense that couldn’t prevent the victory formation from scoring on Saturday, and, with the exception of their visits to Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and the Bulls’ own UB Stadium, a generally underwhelming Bowling Green squad. The RedHawks then wrap their schedule with a road game…against Kent State. Intriguing!
Miami has won three of its last four games, including last week’s 24-17 road win over Ball State. It’s lone loss was a 13-12 decision on the gray turf at Eastern Michigan—that’s the fewest points the Eagles scored in a game this season with the exception of its Week Two defeat at Wisconsin. The RedHawks are third in the MAC in total yards allowed per game (349.9), and second in both rushing yards allowed per game (139) and points allowed per game (22.3).
Maybe practicing against a tough defense has slowed down the Miami offense! It don’t come easy on the other side of the ball for the Hawks, notes Jack Gleckler of The Athens (Ohio) Post:
On offense, the RedHawks struggle to find the end zone, averaging 23.8 points per game. Like the Bobcats, the RedHawks utilize two quarterbacks — A.J. Mayer and Brett Gabbert — under center. Both Mayer and Gabbert complete under 60% of their passes and have each been intercepted twice this season.
The Bobcats, despite their poor record, have shown signs of life over the past three weeks, losing to CMU, Buffalo, and Kent State by a combined 11 points. That said, Ohio has a tough time moving the ball, as we saw against the Bulls: after a huge first quarter in which the ‘Cats jumped out to a 21-0 lead, UB essentially shut the Ohio offense down, culminating in a six-yard fourth quarter.
It has been a struggle for the Bobcats on offense this season, especially when it comes to throwing the ball. But quarterback Kurtis Rourke is coming off his most productive game as a passer, completing 31 of 38 attempts for 308 yards in the close loss to Kent State on Oct. 23. He did throw an interception and has four of those to go with his four touchdowns. Overall, Ohio is second to last in the MAC in passing offense at 167 yards per game with more picks (five) than touchdowns (four).
The Bobcats have had more success on the ground, averaging 194 rushing yards per game (fourth in MAC) with 15 touchdowns in eight games. De'Montre Tuggle (553 yds., 6.1 ypc, 5 TDs) and O'Shaan Allison (303 yds.) are the top two running backs but both Rourke and backup quarterback Amani Rogers, a graduate transfer from UNLV, are both capable of making things happen with their legs as well. Rogers leads the team with six rushing touchdowns (Rourke has three) and is averaging a robust 6.6 yards per carry.
Who wins the Battle of the Bricks? Seven and a half is a big road cover, but the RedHawks defense is tough: they’ve allowed an average of 17 points per game over their last four contests and have the ability to shut down the run—the closest thing to Ohio’s strength.
The Bobcats, conversely, give up over 30 points a game and are dead last in the MAC at stopping the run. You have to think Miami’s freshmen RBs Keyon Mozee and Kevin Davis find some room to roam, opening up veteran WR Jack Sorenson for a few plays, and the Hawks end up with a tough but clear two-score win. I’ll take Miami to win and cover on the road.
Eastern Michigan at Toledo (-9), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
Although tonight’s game is in Toledo’s Glass Bowl, it’s hard to see how the Rockets (4-4, 2-2) are clear favorites in this one. Toledo’s in that category of MAC West teams with Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Ball State that look like conference championship contenders one week, and then fall apart the next.
Head coach Jason Candle’s bunch came two minutes from taking out #8 Notre Dame in South Bend back in Week Two, then lost at home to Colorado State in Week Three. The Rockets responded by beating Ball State (nice) and UMass (meh) by a combined score of 67-19, and then lost two straight close ones to Northern Illinois (a last second killer that may have ruined their conference championship aspirations) and Central Michigan (an OT gut-punch after overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit).
Toledo did roll a pretty good Western Michigan team last week, 34-15—pretty shocking, actually, since WMU hung over 60 points on Kent State the previous week—so which UT squad shows up tonight?
The stakes are high in this one, according to UTRockets.com:
Toledo (4-4, 2-2 MAC) and EMU (5-3, 2-2) are in a five-way tie for second place in the West Division, two games behind division leader Northern Illinois (4-0). Since both the Rockets and Eagles have lost to NIU this season, both teams are effectively three games behind the Huskies with four games left. The winner may still have an outside chance to catch NIU, especially if the Huskies lose their game at Kent State on Nov. 3.
The Rockets are fresh off a 34-15 victory over Western Michigan in the Glass Bowl on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Dequan Finn threw for two long touchdown passes and the Toledo defense shut out a potent Bronco offense in the second half to lead the Rockets.
Finn was just 3-of-14 at the half but keyed a second-half comeback that saw Toledo outscore the Broncos 21-0 in the final 30 minutes after trailing 15-13 at halftime. Toledo's defense stopped WMU three times on fourth down, converting that into 10 points, and came up with a 35-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery, one of three TDs in the third quarter.
Finn ended the game 8-of-24 passing for 138 yards and two scores. Junior Bryant Koback led the rushing attack with an even 100 yards on 17 carries. Toledo's defense held a Western offense that scored 64 points a week ago to just 398 yards.
Eastern Michigan is coming off a 55-24 win over Bowling Green and, behind QB Ben Bryant, have one of the more potent passing offenses in the MAC this season. EMU is deadly in the red zone, scoring on 29 of 33 trips, is one of the top teams in the country in fumble recoveries, and don’t turn the ball over.
Will that be enough to take down Toledo? Maybe. I’ll take the home team in this one to win, but give me the Eagles and the nine points.
Enjoy the games tonight, everyone!
MAC Expansion, Part Two
A quick note—we mentioned this over the weekend, but looks like the MAC expansion rumbling continues. From Ryan Lewis of The Akron Beacon-Journal:
The Mid-American Conference is exploring the possibility of expansion, with rumors centered around the potential additions of Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, according a report by Yahoo Sports.
The report also notes that while nothing is directly imminent, discussions are taking place this week.
Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee are both current members of Conference USA, which only have five remaining schools after the conference recently lost nine of its 14 members to the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt.