The Liberty Flames play host to the Akron Zips in a non-conference showdown from Williams Stadium. The Zips hit the road having one win on the season and struggling to get much of anything going on either side of the ball with a challenging non-conference schedule. For the Flames, there was bound to be some dropoff from all the success of the last few seasons, though with their only loss being by one point o Wake Forest, this team could be on their way to another bowl game. Liberty should come out on top in this one but it'll be interesting to see if the dropoff in the schedule helps the Zips.
Zips Limping AlongComing into the season as one of the worst teams in FBS football, things haven't changed over the first three weeks of the season. Their lone win was against an FCS foe, which came in overtime, while the last two weeks saw them drop games to Michigan State and Tennessee by a combined score of 115-6. Now they head on the road for the third straight week and considering the quality of Liberty's roster, it's expected for them to catch another ugly loss before setting their eyes on MAC play.
The Zips don't have any injuries to worry about coming into this one, which is certainly good news. With their struggles already well documented, this group can't afford to be missing any players. Depth could be the one spot where they have an advantage in this one.
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On the offensive front, only scoring six points in their last two games, even regardless of the opponents, is a concern. They rank 117th nationally in total offense while ranking even worse in scoring and rushing. Without the ability to control the clock and give their own defense some rest, it's a revolving door of struggles for this team. DJ Irons have seen most of the reps under center and he's at least been strong when it comes to not turning the ball over, which is the least this team can do to try to find some success.
Defensively, this group is right near the bottom of Division 1 when it comes to yards allowed per game and scoring defense. Not only do they struggle to stop the pass, but the run also, which will be a challenge considering Liberty's insistence on that aspect of the game. One player to keep an eye on though is Bubba Arslanian (27 tackles). As the leader in the center of the defense, the more he's involved in plays and his name is heard, the better chance Akron will have.
Flames Impressing ManyWith the departure of Malik Willis last season, most expected the Flames to see a steep dropoff in their play and production. So far though, the Flames haven't missed a beat, coming into this one 2-1. Their opener was more of a struggle than anticipated, taking down Southern Miss in overtime, but a win over UAB and losing by only a point to a top 25 team in Wake Forest, has many thinking this team is built in a similar mold as the last few seasons. Controlling the clock is key for this group and while they lost quite a bit of experience, they still have a handful of guys who played valuable minutes over the past few seasons. Adding in being at home and this team should be in good shape for this one.
Injuries are a growing concern for this group, especially in the quarterback position. Kaidon Salter (ankle) has been battling a lingering injury and with a doubtful designation, the offense is likely to look a little different on Saturday. Charlie Brewer (thumb), the former Baylor starter, is also out into next month, leaving them thin at one of the most important decisions.
As mentioned earlier, the status of Salter is a concern heading into Saturday. The dual-threat quarterback has four touchdowns through the air and another two on the ground while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. If he's unable to go, it looks like it'll be a heavy dose of Dae Dae Hunter at running back trying to control the game. The first few games of the season have shown that this team can move the ball and considering Akron's own struggles, they should find success even with the potential absences.
Defensively, this group has made a living off of taking advantage of their opponent's turnovers the last few seasons, with 2022 being no different. They rank 12th nationally in turnovers forced and while their ability to stop the run is questionable against most opponents, they have the talent to stop Akron. Forcing the Zips into throwing the ball is a recipe for success for the Flames, which is what is likely to be the case in this one. The linebacking core is the strength of this group, and that'll be on full display.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
The Flames might be without their quarterback but there's no doubt that they'll win this one with ease on Saturday. Akron has been one of college football's worst teams this season and considering this will be their third-straight road game, fatigue and confidence are going to catch up with them yet again in this one. Liberty has the athletes on both sides of the ball to make things difficult for the Zips and by controlling the game in the trenches, this one is sure to be a blowout. Additionally, according to covers.com, Akron is 1-10 ATS in their last 11 non-conference games and 1-6 ATS in their last seven games against a team with a winning record. For Liberty, they are 4-0 ATS in their last four games against MAC opponents, as well as 10-2 ATS in their last 12 home games.
Full-Game Total Pick
The Zips have had issues stopping opponents this season and while that will continue in this one, Liberty doesn't have the explosiveness of some of their past opponents. The Flames, especially with their quarterback woes, are likely to control the game on the ground in this one. With long and drawn-out drives, there won't be enough possessions for this to be high-scoring. For the Zips, their own struggles moving the ball will have them topping out at maybe a touchdown. Without Akron contributing to the point total in all likelihood, Liberty will be content dominating the ball and coasting to an easy and low-scoring win.