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Game Preview: Akron Zips vs. Michigan State Spartans

Marvin Hall/The Only Colors

Michigan State enters this weekend ranked as the No. 11 team in the Coaches Poll and the No. 14 team in the Associated Press Poll. The Spartans host the Akron Zips on Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

This is the first meeting between the two programs since 1914, with Michigan State winning both previous games. Now, more than 100 years later, Michigan State comes into the 2022 matchup as a huge 34.5-point favorite, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook. This is not totally shocking, as MSU is ranked as a top-15 team in the nation, while Akron needed overtime to defeat an FCS opponent, Saint Francis (Pennsylvania).

This one could get ugly quickly. Still, here is a preview of Saturday’s contest.

Tale of the Tape (one game into 2022 season)

Michigan State:
2022 Record — 1-0 (0-0 in Big Ten)

2022 Offense (per game averages) — 430 total yards, 233 passing yards, 197 rushing yards

2022 Defense (per game averages) — 334 total yards allowed, 193 passing yards allowed, 141 rushing yards allowed

2022 Cumulative Points Scored: 35 (35.0 ppg)

2022 Cumulative Points Allowed: 13 (13.0 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 20th

2022 Record — 1-0 (0-0 in MAC)

2022 Offense (per game averages) — 384 total yards, 286 passing yards, 98 rushing yards

2022 Defense (per game averages) — 453 yards allowed, 264 passing yards allowed, 189 rushing yards allowed

2022 Cumulative Points Scored: 30 (30.0 ppg)

2022 Cumulative Points Allowed: 23 (23.0 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 124th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 2-0
Current streak: Michigan State has won both matchups (1913 and 1914)
Last Michigan State win: Oct. 31, 1914 (75-6)
Last Akron win: N/A
Michigan State all-time record: 722-472-44 (.601)
Akron all-time record: 527-574-36 (.479)

Uniform Watch:

Michigan State:

Hate it or love it, it’s neon time. The Spartans will rock the rather divisive neon uniforms, which include dark green jerseys and pants with neon lettering and accents, as well as white numbering. The helmets are different this time, however, with dark green shells and a neon outline of the Spartan head logo and other neon accents.

A closer look:

And a closer look at the new helmet design being paired with the neon uniforms:


No word on Akron’s game day threads as of yet. I would expect white tops, white or blue pants and gold helmets.

Previous Game Results

Michigan State 35, Western Michigan 13

It wasn’t the prettiest of season openers for Michigan State, but the Spartans eventually walked away with a 22-point victory. Western Michigan actually got on the board first with a field goal, but Michigan State then scored 21 unanswered points as quarterback Payton Thorne found each of tight end Daniel Barker, wide receiver Germie Bernard and wide receiver Keon Coleman in the end zone before halftime.

WMU outscored MSU 10-0 in the third quarter, however, to make the score 21-13. It was still a one-possession game with under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but running back Jalen Berger scored a touchdown on the ground, and a few minutes later, Thorne connected with wide receiver Tre Mosley for another score. That was all she wrote.

For more on Michigan State’s victory over Western Michigan, read over our recap of the game.

Akron, 30, Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) 23

Yikes. Akron needed overtime to defeat an FCS opponent in the Saint Francis Red Flash. On a better note, it was the first time the Zips won a season opener since 2018.

The first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie, but the Red Flash crossed the goal line just 28 seconds into the second quarter to take a 10-3 lead on a rushing touchdown. Akron answered back a few minutes later, tying the score at 10 apiece when quarterback DJ Irons found tight end Tristian Brank in the end zone. Saint Francis would add a field goal before halftime, and go into the locker rooms with a 13-10 advantage.

The Red Flash added another field goal in the third quarter, and Akron followed that up with a touchdown as Irons hit wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis to take a 17-16 lead. In the fourth quarter, the Zips hit pay-dirt once again as running back Cam Wiley scored a rushing touchdown. The Zips’ lead grew to 23-16. Later, Saint Francis’ Deondre Scott rushed for a touchdown and tied the game after the extra point.

In overtime, Wiley would score again to give the Zips a 30-23 lead after the extra point. On the ensuing possession, Saint Francis quarterback Justin Silwoski threw an interception, ending the game. Akron survived.

Key Matchups

Shocky Jacques-Louis vs. Michigan State secondary: While Akron is not a good team overall, it does have some good individual talents, and perhaps none more talented than Jacques-Louis, the Pittsburgh transfer wide receiver. Jacques-Louis recorded eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown in Akron’s win over Saint Francis. Michigan State’s secondary appears to be improved this season, but is still a work in progress, and is banged up after last week’s victory against Western Michigan. Whether it is Ameer Speed, Charles Brantley, Chester Kimbrough, Ronald Williams or somebody else lined up on Jacques-Louis, the Spartans cannot let the wide receiver bust loose.

Payton Thorne/Michigan State wide receivers vs. Akron secondary: This is a matchup that Thorne needs to dominate. He had an uneven game against Western Michigan — completing just 50 percent of his passes, missing some throws he should have hit, throwing an interception and looking rusty overall. However, Thorne also threw four touchdown passes in the game, including three touchdowns of over 40 yards. Meanwhile, Akron gave up 264 passing yards to Saint Francis, again, an FCS team. Thorne should have multiple touchdown and over 200 yards passing in the first half of this game, and may not be needed much in the second half. The most important thing for Thorne is building his confidence back up before next week’s matchup at Washington, and getting out of this game healthy.

Jacoby Windmon/Michigan State pass rush vs. Akron offensive line: Windmon absolutely wrecked the game against Western Michigan with seven tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble. He is the reigning Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. As a whole, the Brandon Jordan-effect was on full display against the Broncos, as the Spartans recorded seven total sacks. On the other side of the coin, Akron allowed six sacks against Saint Francis. Something tells me the Spartans have a stronger pass rush than the Red Flash. Windmon, Jeff Pietrowski, Khris Bogle, Brandon Wright, Aaron Brule and company could make it a long afternoon for Akron quarterback DJ Irons.

Game Info

Time: Saturday, Sept. 10, 4 p.m. Eastern Time
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Weather expectations: Mostly cloudy, 82 degrees around kickoff, winds south/southwest at nine miles per hour
DraftKings Line: Michigan State -34.5


Akron went winless during the 2019 season and has four games combined since then. This is a team with a new head coach in Joe Moorhead that is in complete rebuild mode. Simply put, the Zips will not hang with the Spartans on Saturday. The more likely scenario is that MSU finds itself up somewhere between 30 to 40 points by halftime and the backups and depth players see plenty of reps in the second half.

I expect Thorne, the wide receivers and running backs Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard to have a massive first half. I also anticipate the Michigan State defense making life difficult on Irons and the Akron offense.

Moorhead is a creative offensive coach, so expect the Zips to incorporate a lot of run-pass option and to try to throw the ball a decent around (Akron threw it 39 times last week). He will want to get the ball to his top-playmaker in Jacques-Louis. On defense for Akron, one name that might stick out to Michigan State fans is linebacker Jeslord Boateng, a former Spartan who should start for the Zips. Another former Spartan, running back, Anthony Williams Jr., also now plays for Akron, but it is unclear how much he will play on Saturday.

The biggest concern for Michigan State in this game is getting out of it healthy. The Spartans have already lost versatile linebacker Darius Snow for the season, while safety and team leader Xavier Henderson is expected to miss this week’s game and possibly more time after that with a leg injury. MSU had other players, including wide receiver Jayden Reed, in and out of the lineup last week as well. Luckily, as mentioned, the starters shouldn’t have to play too much in this contest.

Michigan State should win this game in blowout fashion.

For more on Akron, please read our “Get to Know the Opponent” article.


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