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2018 Game III: Iowa State vs. Akron Football Preview

We welcome the ZIPS to Town!

NCAA Football: Akron at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Game III: Iowa State (0-2, 0-0) vs. Akron (2-0, 0-0)

Date: Saturday, September 22, 2018

Time: 11:00 A.M. CST

Location: MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA

Capacity: 61,500

Line: ISU -19.5

Television: FSN

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

Akron Game Notes

SB Nation Website - MAC Hustle Belt

A valiant effort against a top-notch program that will vie for the College Football Playoff. Not much more can be said about losing to Oklahoma, other than the fact the Cyclones kept the game close. I thought there were a ton of positives to spin though.

First off, I think ISU’s ceiling is raised exponentially with a quarterback like Zeb Noland. The sophomore put the ball in tight spots, and continued to get playmakers like Hakeem Butler the ball. Speaking of Butler, he was a grown-ass man last Saturday, corralling 5 passes for 174 yards and two SICK-NASTY Touchdowns.

Albeit for a few missed tackles, the defense played inspiring. I was pleased to see new faces on the field, as proven depth helped ISU mount a comeback and 22 different players accounted for tackles. All in all, the Cyclones have played two quality opponents in two weeks, and will play the perfect SlumpBuster this week in Akron.

When we last left off….

The Cyclones lost to OU by a score of 37-27, and while my prediction was nearly spot on (35-27), it was more of Kyler Murray making plays than ISU making stops. He is going to be a handful for any team the rest of the way, and has tremendous quickness when under pressure. The Sooners had their patented 75-yard bomb for a score, but other than that the Cyclones did a good job of bending, but not breaking.

It was these little things that needed to happen in order for ISU to win:

  1. Second Quarter – 1st and 10 at ISU 33 with clock running and under 30 seconds to play. Kyler Murray hits Marquise “Hollywood” Brown for a 26-yard corner route down to 5-yard line. OU extends the lead to 14 right before HALF.
  2. Third Quarter – 3rd and 1 at ISU 34 with under 3 minutes to play. Sheldon Croney stoned for a 1-yard loss – ISU forced to PUNT
  3. Fourth Quarter – 1st and Goal at OU 6 with under 12 minutes. Two consecutive David Montgomery runs for minus-8 yards – ISU ends up with a FG

On top of these gaffes, ISU had multiple lapses tackling Sooner playmakers, and were unable to bring Murray down on key third-down plays. The play that stands out biggest to me is the last drive before half. That was a back-breaker to give up a touchdown (and the momentum) right before break. If Campbell wants to take that next step in beating nationally-ranked teams, it is plays like these where the Cyclones need to improve.

Akron Tidbits

To be honest, before the season started, I thought this game would be a cake-walk. Akron is a team that is very undisciplined, and that is a direct reflection of their coach, Terry Bowden. In their game against Northwestern last week they were flagged for FIFTEEN penalties, and still won. They play Rucker-style ball, where you just roll the ball out there and let em play. The only difference is this year’s squad is stacked with senior leadership. They have 31 on the roster, and NINE starting on defense.

The Zips beat that semi-quality Big Ten School last week 39-34, but I would say NW beat themselves. Down 21-3 at the half, the Akron defense turned it on, forcing two pick-sixes and recovering a fumble in the end zone to boot.

Akron was picked to finish 4th in their Division of the MAC West, but have proven their doubters wrong, going 2-0 to start the season. Their offensive output has been so-so, but their calling card has been the D, as they only allow 81 yards rushing per game and have forced FOUR interceptions.

The Series

ISU flat out dominated the game last year in Ohio, winning 41-14. That was the first time the two schools met, and the Cyclones did it behind a big day from Jacob Park and David Montgomery. The DM Train did whatever he wanted, rushing for nearly six yards a carry, and the defense pitched a shutout in the 2nd half on their way to SIX sacks and three forced turnovers.

Iowa State Offense

It appears Zeb Noland will be the signal-caller again Saturday, and I am just fine with that. I think ISU can turn it up a notch with #4 slinging the ball downfield, as he takes this offense to another dimension with his arm. The biggest benefactor of those throws has been Hakeem “The Dream” Butler, as he went off last week.

The Akron secondary is experienced and will be a thorn in the side of ISU’s receivers. They also are overly-aggressive, which makes for some big plays to be had by ISU’s playmakers. It was nice to see Deshaunte Jones get back in the groove, as the junior corralled nine balls against OU. Look for more Tarique Milton and Landon Akers on the field, as their speed can change the game in an instant.

First Key to Victory – Take Care of The Ball

The only way Akron makes this a game is if they continue to amass their record-setting pace of takeaways. Noland is apt to make tough throws, but I can guarantee you Campbell and his offensive staff are sitting down in the film room and forcing Zeb to take what the defensive gives him.

The offensive line played decent against OU, and the switch to Colin Newell at center and Julian Good-Jones to left tackle needed to happen. There were more holes for #32 to run through, as he had three such runs of 16 yards or more. Akron’s front seven is stout, as they only give up 2.1 yards per carry. It will be a dogfight for ISU, but they have to be balanced if they want to continue to move the chains.

Second Key to Victory – Wear the Zips Down in the Running Game

We saw more of both Kene Nwangwu and Sheldon Croney last week as they spelled Montgomery and were a nice change of pace. None of them have the elusiveness that David has, so I would like to see the DM Train with at least 20-25 carries in this one. As ISU fills up the scoreboard, it will be paramount in the latter parts of the game to pound the rock and run that clock down.

Akron Defense

This is Akron’s strongest defense it has had in quite some time. They are led by NINE senior starters, and have four named 1st or 2nd team All-Preseason in the MAC. They run a standard 4-3 front, mixed in with a nickel package from time to time. The Zip’s front four are all veteran seniors, and are led by Defensive End Jamal Davis II, who had 15.5 tackles for loss in 2017.

The linebacking corps has a guy that looks to be playing on Sundays in Ulysees Gilbert III. The senior has already amassed two 1st Team-All MAC honors at his position, and had 58 more tackles than anyone else on the roster in 2017. He is all over the field and racks up the stats in the backfield and passing plays.

The secondary is led by reigning Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week Alvin Davis. The 5-foot-9 safety had not just one, but TWO pick-sixes last week against Northwestern. He finished second on the team in tackles a year ago, and leads the nation with three interceptions.

The Verdict – ISU by a NOSE

This matchup will be a good one, as Akron plays sound up front, and aggressive in the back end. They have yet to gain much pressure on the year, but have turned the momentum with turnovers. ISU’s offensive line has proven to me they can pass block, but against a MAC opponent I look forward to a day of solid run-blocking, paving the way for a 100-yard plus day out of David Montgomery.

Iowa State Defense

The ISU defense played a solid game last week, but Kyler Murray’s elusiveness was just too much for anybody to handle. This game will be a lot different, as the Cyclones will thrive on the ineffectiveness of Akron’s passing attack.

The defensive front has been strong, and both Jaquan Bailey and Enyi Uwazurike should have a heyday in the backfield. Look for Iowa State to dial up the blitzes (just like last year), and get to the quarterback. I see a variety of stunts, and with Polynesian Player of the Year front-runner Ray Lima holding down the fort, the outside edge will cave in like a knife through warm butter.

Heacock’s Game Plan

The linebackers were shuffled around last week, as we saw a ton of reserves – namely O’Rien Vance and Reggan Northrup. Northrup will garner more playing time, especially against teams that spread ISU out and try and take advantages of mismatches in the slot. All linebackers will need to keep an eye on quarterback Kato Nelson as he is slippery when plays break down.

Akron tends to take shots downfield, and I thought ISU’s safeties did an admirable job of containing OU’s deep-passing attack last week. Braxton Lewis supplanted De’Monte Ruth at the nickel/STAR spot, and is probably better at pass coverage. Safety Greg Eisworth ate it up in the tackle column against OU, and look for him to continue upon his success. As ISU gains pressure up front, there will be errant throws and opportunities for the defensive backs to take the ball away.

Akron Offense

The mighty Zips (named after a female mascot by the way) run a balanced attack on offense. They are nothing compared to the Big 12 powerhouses when it comes to efficiency. In fact, they have mostly scored on shorter fields, and have been unable to maintain long drives.

Third Key to Victory – Contain the Downfield Pass

Quarterback Kato Nelson is feast or famine, and loves to take chances deep. When he is able to complete it (60% rate) the offense puts up yards, with an average of 14.7 yards per completion. ISU’s safeties will need to stay back in cover-2 and not allow Akron’s receivers to take the top off.

Nelson isn’t very good at going through his progressions, and tends to stare down his receivers. He has spread it around, as three receivers each have 7 catches, and all three average 18 or more yards per catch. The biggest target is 6-foot-4 Jonah Morris, who leads the team with 145 yards.

The offensive line returns three starters with 61 combined starts. They have yet to play anyone of ISU’s caliber though. The rushing attack is led by senior Van Edwards, who averages just over 5.2 yards per carry with two touchdowns. He can turn the corner, evident by this GIF below.

Verdict – ISU by a Sizeable Margin

Iowa State matches up very well against this Akron offense. The Cyclones’s defensive line will eat up any semblance of a running game, and will cause fits for their incompetent quarterback. With all of the chaos that Defensive Coordinator Jon Heacock will ensue it will play right into the hands of multiple turnovers and short fields for Iowa State to score.

Special Teams

Another kicker/punter, Akron’s Nick Gasser has a strong leg and was named Special Teams Player of the Week four times in 2017. He averaged a solid 42-yard net punt average, but was only 3-for-6 on field goals last year.

The return game has been nonexistent, and the coverage has been just fine for the Zips. Nothing exciting in this aspect of the game.

The Cyclones punter Corey Dunn scrapped the rugby-style punt last week, and had a fantastic coffin-corner kick on top of it. Kicker Connor Assalley did what he was asked, nailing two field goals, and has yet to come in for any pressure kicks.

I could see a coming out party for our returners, and would love to see Kene Nwangwu break one.

Verdict – EVEN

Neither unit is above average, we just have to see what the Cyclone kickers can do moving forward.

Winning Scale from 1 to 10

For this week, if you were to compare a 1 to the speed of a sloth, and 10 to a Cheetah, give me ISU’s chances of winning with a Thoroughbred Horse.

Final Analysis

This is a game Iowa State is supposed to win. The only way Akron can keep it close is if they continue to force turnovers and make Iowa State beat themselves. That my friends, just isn’t going to happen.

This matchup couldn’t come at a better time. Matt Campbell will run circles around Terry Bowden, and will do all the little things right to take care of business early. The Zips have a solid D, but Iowa State’s own defense will break the game open with their own fair share of turnovers and short fields for Noland and Montgomery to operate.

I don’t foresee a blowout, nor do I see a big day out of our offense. Noland can take a step forward in his development by hitting his short- and intermediate-throws, and I am really looking forward to the DM Train getting back on track.

Put a W on the board!


How Bad will ISU will Beat Akron?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Take Em out Back and Slap em By 50!
    (16 votes)
  • 61%
    Give me a 3-TD Win
    (119 votes)
  • 27%
    Meh, ISU wins, but Akron covers the Spread
    (53 votes)
  • 2%
    Too Close to Call
    (5 votes)
193 votes total Vote Now

Final Score

Iowa State 34

Akron 21

Let us know your thoughts below