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Kent State Golden Flashes preview

November 18, 2011

Let’s start by acknowledging what’s on the line here. For EMU, it’s bowl eligibility and a shot at a co-MAC West Division championship.* For Kent State, it’s…also bowl eligibility?

*Toledo’s win tonight means that the best finish EMU can hope for is a “share” of the West Division championship, and not a trip to the MAC Championship game. EMU can not win any potential tiebreakers.

Yes, you read that right. After losing their first six FBS games, Kent State has now strung together three straight wins, over Bowling Green, Central Michigan, and Akron.

First year head coach Darrell Hazell spent the past seven years (2004-2010) as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach under Jim Tressel. For a while this year I was picking on him as the worst new hire in the MAC, but over the last three games he’s shut me up.

Statistically the Golden Flashes have one of the MAC’s best defenses, with the #2 rush and #2 pass defense, the #4 scoring defense, and allowing the fewest yards per play in the conference. Defensive leaders for Kent State include middle linebacker Luke Batton (84 tackles, 37 solo), weakside linebacker C.J. Malauulu (3.5 sacks), strong safety Luke Wollet (4 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries), and defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix (13 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 fumbles forced).

The Golden Flashes run a balanced offense, which early in the year, was balanced in its futility; Kent State averaged just 7 points per game through their first six FBS games. Since their bye week, however, there’s been a marked difference, and they are averaging just over 28 points per game in the last three weeks. For the season they’ve passed the ball on about 44% of plays, but that’s accounted for 55% of their yards gained. Their season average of 3.69 yards per play is the worst in the country, but like EMU, their offense has exploded recently.

The offensive improvement rests significantly on quarterback Spencer Keith. After throwing eight interceptions and just three touchdowns in the first seven games, Keith has connected for six touchdowns and no interceptions while completing comfortably over 50% of his passes over the last three games. Keith’s top receiving targets are Chris Gilbert, Sam Kirkland, Matthew Hurdle, and Justin Thompson.

The top ball carrier for the Golden Flashes is Trayion Durham (152 carries for 518 yards and three touchdowns), while Jacquise Terry and Anthony Meray have also had meaningful carries. Keith has kept the ball 46 times for just 37 net yards, but he’s actually a respectable runner — his 59-yard run against Akron was Kent State’s longest of the season — who’s gained 165 yards, but given most of it back in the form of sacks.

Altogether, this has the look of a tough defensive game, the sort of thing to mollify those of us who weren’t impressed with the recent 126-point total scores. Earlier in the year this looked like an easy win for the Eagles, but now I’m not so confident. I still think the Eagles will win, earning bowl eligibility while ending Kent State’s hopes, but I think this game will come down to the fourth quarter.

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