By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Kent State’s football program is known for many things, the foremost of which is producing coaches.
Lou Holtz, Gary Pinkel, and Nick Saban all played their collegiate careers as Golden Flashes. Throw in ex-Flashes like Hall-of-Famer Jack Lambert and potential future Hall-of Famers James Harrison and Antonio Gates (technically, he played basketball, but still), and it’s clear why Kent State has a reputation as a football production center.
They just don’t produce many wins.
Not historically, at least. Entering last season, Kent State was the only FBS program founded in the 20th century that had won less than 40 percent of its games – 38.8 percent, to be exact.
But that changed quickly under second-year head coach Darrell Hazell, who led the Golden Flashes, however improbably, to an 11-3 record and within a grasp of a BCS bowl game. Had they beaten Northern Illinois in double overtime at the MAC Championship, they, and not NIU, would have been in the Orange Bowl.
That’s the pedigree Kent State entered the 2013 season with, though a 1-1 start has tempered expectations slightly in Paul Haynes’ first year as head coach.
Of course, Kent State could get a boost in the form of Dri Archer, who left their opener against Liberty with a twisted ankle and did not play in Saturday’s loss to Bowling Green. A bona fide Heisman contender, Archer spearheaded a Golden Flash running attack a year ago that averaged 226 yards per game last season. Archer’s 184 all-purpose yards per game ranked fifth in the country, and he finished with 1,429 rushing yards and 16 TDs on the ground, 561 receiving yards and 4 TDs through the air, and returned three kicks for scores, to boot.
Without Archer, the offensive onus has fallen to Trayion Durham, who isn’t much of a downgrade from Archer. He finished with 1,316 yards and 14 TDs on the ground in 2012, but has struggled without Archer beside him in 2013, netting just 116 yards and a score through two games.
If both are healthy for LSU, they’ll be complimented by a passing attack that looked sharp early against Bowling Green. Freshman QB Colin Reardon started 10-of-14 for 131 yards and two touchdowns to jump out to an early lead, but finished 5-of-14 for 33 yards in the second half. He did, however, add a team-high 58 yards on the ground and is a threat to run at any time.
His top receiver is junior Chris Humphrey, who has hauled in touchdowns in each of Kent State’s first two games. He’s averaging 86 yards per game so far in 2013.
The biggest dropoff from 2012 has been Kent State’s defense, which relied heavily on forcing turnovers a year ago. After finishing fourth in the nation in turnover margin in 2012, forcing 38 total turnovers, the Flashes have yet to intercept a pass or recover a fumble through two games.
"That was a key for us before," said Haynes. "We just aren't getting them. Some years you get them. Some years we don't … It comes down to fundamentals to get the ball."
Kent State still boasts defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix up front, who is one of the most accomplished players in MAC history. He stands just 5-foot-11 and 260 pounds, but his production is off the charts. He already has four tackles for loss in 2013, and with two tackles on Saturday, he became Kent State’s all-time leader in stops. He’s on the Bendarik, Nagurski, and Outland Watchlists, and as a result, the three-time first-team All-MAC performer has faced double teams all season.
He’s been little help to a struggling defense, however, which surrendered 576 yards of total offense to Bowling Green on Saturday. Kent State has been particularly poor against the pass, surrendering 357 yards on 19-of-25 passing to BGSU’s Matt Johnson at the weekend.
The key to taking on LSU will be forcing turnovers and getting Archer back to full speed. He’s a threat from the slot or the backfield, but even if he’s healthy, he’ll need plenty of help in Baton Rouge this weekend.
PLAYER TO WATCH
#1 RB, Senior, 5-foot-8, 175 pounds
If Kent State is to have any chance of knocking off LSU, it needs a huge game from senior running back Dri Archer. The Heisman hopeful went out early with a sprained ankle in the Golden Flashes opener against Liberty, and though he was listed as day-to-day and was thought to be available vs. Bowling Green in Saturday’s MAC opener, he sat. If he’s healthy, he’s as dynamic a player as there is in the country and will be a handful out of the backfield and in the slot. And don’t forget about his return game expertise as well. He’ll be hungry, so LSU must make sure he doesn’t get fed.
HEAD TO HEAD
Trayion Durham vs. D.J. Welter
Welter showed last week that maybe he was finally starting to turn a corner. He made three tackles, and while that’s nothing to write home about he did not look as lost on the field. He’ll need to bring a physical presence this weekend with Durham coming to town. The 6-foot-1, 248-pound running back is a load, and the Golden Flashes have been willing to give him the ball often in Dri Archer’s absence. He leads the team with 116 yards on 32 carries. His average yards per carry won’t strike fear into LSU’s heart, but his physical stature is imposing. Welter needs to be a sure tackler against this goliath.
Roosevelt Nicks vs. Vadal Alexander
Don’t let appearances fool you. Kent State’s Roosevelt Nicks, on first glance, might be completely obscured from vision by LSU’s mountainous left guard. You don’t see many 5-foot-11, 250-pound defensive tackles these days, after all. But the relatively little man on the inside plays much bigger than his listed size. He was named on the preseason watch lists for the Nagurski, Outland and Bednarik awards, and finished last week’s contest with four tackles for loss and a sack against Bowling Green. Alexander, who is LSU’s largest offensive lineman at 6-foot-6, 340 pounds, needs to neutralize Nicks’ quickness and take advantage of his size.KENT STATE
- Senior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix is Kent State's career leader in tackles for loss with 56.0, passing Michael Zele (1975-78), after adding four to his total on Saturday. He is also now tied for third among Kent State's career sack leaders with 21.5. Nix also moved into the MAC's top 10 in career tackles for loss.
- Junior Chris Humphrey led the Flashes in receiving yards (84) for the second straight game on Saturday and made his second touchdown catch in as many games.
- Redshirt freshman Colin Reardon threw a pair of touchdown passes with no interceptions for the second straight week against Bowling Green. He also completed his first five passes of the game for the second straight week. Reardon led the Flashes with 58 yards rushing.
- Quote to Remember: "We're going to fight. This is Week 2. This isn’t the end of the season. The world isn't over; we lost. We've been beaten before, but we're going to come back as strong as ever. We're going to go fight, we're going to get our road focus on and that's it. We're not going to put our tail between our legs and act like the world is over.” – Kent State coach Paul Haynes after losing 41-22 to Bowling Green