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September 13, 2013TheWolverine.com looks at the key matchups for this weekend's Michigan-Akron game.
Jehu Chesson vs. The Akron Secondary
Less than a minute into the 2013 season, Akron was already playing catch up. On the second play from scrimmage in the Zips' season-opening 38-7 loss to Central Florida, Golden Knights quarterback Blake Bortles found wide receiver Breshad Perriman over the top for a 91-yard touchdown pass.
Perriman just straight-up beat Akron senior cornerback Emmanuel Lartey, outracing him on a simple fly pattern for an easy completion. It could have stopped there, but junior safety Bre' Ford took a horrible angle in pursuit. Perriman blasted past him and ran the final 60 yards for a touchdown.
Akron has a fairly experienced secondary. All four players - Ford, Lartey, junior free safety Johnny Robinson and senior cornerback Malachi Freeman - are upperclassmen who came into the season with starts under their belts. The four have combined to tally 46 career starts at this point (18 for Robinson, 14 for Freeman, nine for Lartey and five for Ford).
Despite their experience, they are very much prone to giving up the big play. Akron is one of just two teams in the country that has surrendered a passing play of 90 or more yards already this season (Kent State is the other one).
In the first two games of the season, the Zips have given up big numbers through the air, ranking 114th nationally with 314.5 yards per game.
And Central Florida and James Madison - Akron's first two opponents - have not been known as high-powered offensive teams in recent years. The Dukes averaged 182.5 passing yards per game in 2012, and ripped the Zips for 310 yards last week.
The Golden Knights were 67th nationally in passing offense last year (225.6 yards per game), but went for 319 against Akron in week one.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jehu Chesson has been touted as a deep-threat option for redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, but through two games, we have not seen that come to fruition.
Chesson has not caught a ball yet. This week will be the perfect opportunity for him to get his feet wet against a defensive backfield that will give him some options to do so.
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon feels "perfectly healthy" after tweaking his hamstring last week - but this game is one in which he can get a little R&R by challenging some of the more unproven receivers to produce.
Chesson could have a big game.
Michigan Defense vs. Akron Offense On Third Downs
By nearly every measure, the Akron offense has gotten off to a slow start to the season. Central Florida held the Zips - who ranked 16th nationally in passing offense in 2012 (312.8 yards per game) - to just 116 yards through the air. James Madison allowed Akron to rush for just 69 yards.
Through two games, the Zips rank No. 108 nationally in total offense (303.0 yards per game), No. 103 nationally in rushing offense (101.5 yards per game) and No. 85 nationally in passing offense (201.5 yards per game).
In short, Akron hasn't been good offensively - except on third downs.
The Zips have found ways to move the chains in both games this season, despite relatively weak offensive performances otherwise. Against the Golden Knights, the Zips went 8-of-16 on third downs. Last week, they went 8-of-13.
That's good for a 55.2 percent conversion rate, currently ranked 18th nationally. Just 20 teams in the whole country are converting more than 55 percent of their third downs.
And the Zips have had particularly high success through the air on third downs, converting 12-of-19 attempts with passes (63.2 percent). They have thrown on third-and-short situations, all the way up to a third and 31 (failed conversion) against James Madison.
Akron is just 4-of-10 when attempting to convert a third down with a rushing play.
On the flip side, Michigan is slightly off the pace it has set on third downs under Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison this season.
The Wolverines have surrendered 12 conversions on 29 third downs (41.4 percent). There are 73 teams nationally who are holding teams under 40 percent this season.
Central Michigan achieved a first down on four of 14 third downs (28.6 percent), and Notre Dame moved the chains on eight of 15 tries (53.3 percent).
In Hoke's first two years, Michigan allowed a combined 127 conversions of 351 third downs (36.2 percent).
The Wolverines have given up five first downs when the opponent was faced with a third and nine or longer this season.
The Turnover Battle
As good as Gardner has been since taking over the starting quarterback role, turnovers are definitely still a concern.
Gardner has thrown eight interceptions, including at least one in every game, in his seven career starts, dating back to the Minnesota game last season.
The Wolverines are minus-5 in turnover margin in those seven games. Last week's 41-30 win over Notre Dame was the first game in the Gardner tenure that Michigan finished with a positive turnover margin (two Notre Dame turnovers to one).
And in that game, Gardner threw one of the costliest interceptions imaginable, an ill-advised floater in the end zone that resulted in a Stephon Tuitt touchdown.
Gardner should have his first interception-free start Saturday. Akron has collected just eight picks in the last 26 games (one so far this season, five in 2012 and a nation-low two in 2011), and the Zips have finished with a negative turnover margin every season since 2008.
Click here to see Michigan's depth chart.