OVERVIEW: In short, this game will likely decide the Mid-American Conference’s East Division champion. The Golden Flashes are 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the Mid-American Conference. Bowling Green is the only other East Division team with one loss, so a KSU victory will give them the division crown. … Kent State has won eight in a row and now is ranked 25th in the latest Associated Press poll. Their most-recent victory was a 48-32 win at Miami. The Flashes’ only loss this season does damage their national perception, since it is a 47-14 loss at Kentucky early in the season.
OFFENSE: The Golden Flashes rank second in the MAC in scoring offense with their average of 35.4 points per game, a number that jumps to 38.8 points per game in league contests only. Despite the big point total, Kent State is just seventh in the 13-team league in total offense with 402.4 yards per contest, in large part because the Flashes rank last in passing offense with just 166.7 yards per game. The KSU run game, though, ranks second in the MAC with 235.7 yards per game. The key components in that rushing attack are junior Dri Archer and sophomore Trayion Durham. Durham ranks seventh in the MAC in rushing with 105.9 yards per game thanks to his 1,059 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Archer is eighth in that category with 104.3 yards per game thanks to 1,043 yards (on just 108 carries, giving him 9.7 yards per rush) and 12 TDs. The Flashes’ quarterback is senior Spencer Keith, who has completed 133-of-227 passes (58.6 percent) for 1,413 yards and nine touchdowns with five interceptions. Kent State’s leading receiver is Archer, who has caught 27 passes for 387 yards and four more scores, while freshman Josh Boyle has 25 catches for 321 yards and three TDs. “X” receiver Matt Hurdle, a senior, has 23 catches for 236 yards and one touchdown. The offensive line is a veteran group with three seniors and two juniors. The seniors are left tackle Brian Winters, LG Josh Kline and RT Kent Cleveland. This unit has allowed 15 sacks this season to rank fifth in the MAC in that category.
DEFENSE: The Golden Flashes’ defensive numbers also rank near the top of the MAC. Kent State, which has seven senior starters, is third in the MAC in scoring defense at 25.2 points per game and is sixth in total defense, allowing 415.8 yards per game. Leading the defense is senior linebacker Luke Batton, who has 99 tackles in 10 games and who has recovered four fumbles and intercepted a pair of passes. Senior linebacker C.J. Malauulu (look for the Troy Polamalu hair) is fourth on the team in tackles with 50 from the weak-side position, while strong-side linebacker DeVante’ Strickland, a sophomore, has 12 tackles in eight games, only four of which are starts. The defensive line is led by junior Roosevelt Nix, who has 40 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss, this season and was the MAC’s defensive MVP as a freshman. Senior Jake Dooley plays the “leo” position for the Flashes and has 32 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, while senior nose tackle Dana Brown has 31 stops and two tackles for loss. The fourth starter on the line is junior left end Mark Fackler, who has 18 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss along with three interceptions, which I would guess is some sort of record for a defensive lineman. Leading the secondary is junior strong safety Luke Wollet, who is second on the team with 78 tackles and also has 3.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. Senior cornerback Sidney Saulter is third on the team with 59 tackles and has four tackles for loss along with one interception. Senior free safety Leon Green has 20 tackles but has started just three games, while senior cornerback Norman Wolfe has 28 tackles in six games after missing four contests with a broken arm. One player the Flashes are missing is sophomore strong safety Calvin Tiggle, who had 34 tackles in six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the win over Army.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Golden Flashes have been very strong in most of the special teams areas this season. Some of the credit goes to Dri Archer, who leads the MAC with his average of 40.0 yards per kickoff return, with three touchdowns on just 10 returns. As a team the Flashes lead the MAC with an average of 24.3 yards per return. … But KSU also leads the MAC in net punting, as freshman Anthony Melchiori averages 42.8 yards per kick and the team has allowed just 15 yards on 47 punts. … Kent State ranks fifth in the league in kickoff coverage, allowing a net of 40.7 yards per kick. Senior Freddy Cortez handles the kicking and averages 60.1 yards per kick with 24 touchbacks, the third-highest total in the league. … Cortez, who has been injured much of the season, also handles the place-kicking and field goals. He has made 45-of-45 extra-point attempts but is just 13-of-19 (68.4 percent) on field goals with a long of 48. Cortez is just 4-of-9 on kicks longer than 40 yards and has missed two of his last three from that distance. … The Golden Flashes rank seventh in the league in punt returns with 6.8 yards per kick. Senior Eric Adeyemi has returned four punts for 27 yards (an average of 6.8 yards per return).
BG KEYS TO VICTORY: 1. Stop the run. The Falcons have done a great job of stopping the rushing game, but the Golden Flashes have done a great job of running the ball. Here’s a note that should worry BG fans: Rutgers was ranked third in the country in rushing defense, but KSU gained 242 yards on the ground against them. 2. QB play may rule the day. Both teams have run the ball well, so both defenses probably have geared up to stop the run. So which team will be able to throw the ball better? The team that does a better job passing the ball will have an advantage. 3. Winning special teams is a must. The Falcons dominated Ohio’s punting team, and the 19 points that caused was a vital ingredient in the victory. This means more than just containing Archer on special teams: BG’s punting must continue its upswing, and the team’s place-kicking must continue to be strong as well.