Liberty (2-1) welcomes the Akron Zips (1-2) to Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia for a Saturday contest at 6 p.m. on ESPN+. It will be the second ever meeting between the two schools with Akron winning the only previous meeting, 49-21, on Oct. 12, 2002.
The Flames are just 4-9 all-time against MAC opponents, but are 2-0 since moving to the FBS. Most recently, Liberty routed Eastern Michigan, 56-20, in the 2021 Lending Tree Bowl. In 2019, Hugh Freeze got his first win as Liberty’s head coach by defeating Buffalo, 35-17.
Liberty will be looking to get back in the win column after suffering its first defeat of the 2022 campaign last Saturday, a 37-36 loss at No. 18 Wake Forest. The Flames’ first three games have been decided by a total of 10 points.
That has not been the case for the Akron Zips, who have been humiliated in their last two contests by a combined score of 115-6 against Michigan State and Tennessee. In their season opener, the Zips outlasted St. Francis (PA) in overtime, 30-23.
Joe Moorhead is in his first season as head coach at Akron. He was most recently the offensive coordinator at Oregon but has made head coaching stops at Mississippi State and Fordham. His other roles as offensive coordinator have come at Georgetown, Akron, UConn, and Penn State.
“I know that Moorhead is doing the same things he’s been doing offensively,” said Freeze on Monday. “Gives you a lot of tight, closet sets, a lot of pictures. This big quarterback is a lot of plus one quarterback run which is a problem that you have to prepare for. He is big and strong. Obviously, Coach Moorhead has done good everywhere he’s been. I’m certain he will have a good plan and his kids will be ready.”
DJ Irons is the big quarterback Freeze is referencing. He is a 6’6″, 205 pound athlete from Lawrenceville, Georgia. He appeared in eight games for the Zips, including three starts, during the 2021 season. Irons passed for 892 yards while competing 78 of 120 attempts. He was also Akron’s second leading rusher last season with 309 yards and two touchdowns.
Irons earned JUCO All-America accolades at Iowa Central Community College as he completed over 62% of his passes for 2,039 yards and 21 touchdowns. So far this season, in three games for the Zips, Irons has completed 63 of 94 passes for 650 yards and two scores. He has also rushed 28 times for 48 yards.
Cam Wiley is a running back who transferred to Akron from Minnesota. Liberty recruited him out of the portal this past December before ultimately choosing to go with Dae Dae Hunter. Wiley has rushed 38 times for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns so far this season for the Zips. He’s also hauled in 11 passes for 50 yards. Wiley did most of his damage on the ground in the season opener against St. Francis (PA) where he toted the ball 21 times for 84 yards and 2 scores.
“The dang tailback is a guy we tried to recruit from Minnesota,” Freeze said of Wiley. “He’s a heck of a player. That quarterback, you better watch him, dual threat, 6’6″, can throw it, can run it. Receivers are good.”
Tim Timesbar is in his first season as Akron’s defensive coordinator after spending the previous four years at Oregon State as their defensive coordinator.
“Defensively, it’s a lot. It’s a lot. We need to get a beat on what they’re doing because they are bringing it from a lot of places,” Freeze said on Monday of the Akron defense. “They give you a lot of different looks that can make you look really silly or bad at times. They have my full attention.”
Bubba Arslanian leads the team in tackles with 27. Victor Jones and Ryan Johnson are two defensive linemen who can rush the passer and cause problems for the opposition. Jones has four tackles for loss and a sack so far this season.
“I know they will be hungry to come into our place and compete,” Freeze said of Akron. “I’m real curious to see how our kids respond to working and earning the right to win a game. I think it’s an interesting week for us. Hopefully we handle it well.”
Liberty 35, Akron 14
Line: Liberty -26.5
Picks results this year: