Yesterday Hunter Paniagua broke down the Kent State offense. Today I'll switch gears and go in-depth on the Kent State defense under coordinator Brian George.
KENT STATE STARTING DEFENSE
LE: Mark Fackler (6-3, 255, Sr.)
NT: Nate Terhune (6-4, 265, So.)
DT: Roosevelt Nix (5-11, 267, Sr.)
Leo: Nate Vance (6-1, 230, Jr.)
WLB: DeVante' Strickland (6-1, 231, Jr.)
MLB: Matt Dellinger (6-1, 219, So.)
Star: Jordan Italiano (5-10, 201, So.)
CB: Darius Polk (5-11, 190, Sr.)
FS: Keenan Stalls (6-0, 175, So.)
SS: Luke Wollet (6-0, 195, Sr.)
CB: Malcolm Pannell (5-10, 172, Sr.)
Notable Backups: LEO Zack Hitchens (6-1, 241, Sr.), MLB Danny Gress (6-0, 238, Sr.)
Coming off an 11-3 season in 2012, Kent State had to adjust to a new coaching staff this offseason. Out went former head coach Darrell Hazell, to Purdue, and in came defensive-minded head coach Paul Haynes, who spent last season as the Arkansas defensive coordinator and several years before that on defensive staffs at Ohio State.
Haynes, who brought coordinator Brian George with him from Arkansas, is tasked with turning around a Golden Flash defense which, despite the successful win-loss record, was abysmal against the pass, surrendering 272.0 yards per game through the air in 2012 (11th in the MAC, 105th in NCAA).
Through two home games in 2013, a narrow seven-point win over Liberty and a 41-22 loss to conference foe Bowling Green, little has changed. Kent State has given up 273.0 yards per game passing, including 357 yards on 19-of-25 passing (18.8 yards per completion) and two touchdowns to Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson.
On the other hand, the Kent State ‘D' was in 2012 and continues to be this fall a fairly formidable group against the run. A season after finishing second in the MAC in rush defense, conceding only 138.3 yards per game on the ground, the Flashes are still second in their conference, allowing 126.0 rushing yards per contest.
By far the most important cog in KSU's 4-2-5 defense is senior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix. At 5-foot-11 and 267 pounds, Nix is certainly undersized, but the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, native has been a monster in his three-plus seasons on campus.
Nix, who wears No. 5, owns the school record for tackles for loss with 56.0 (he had four last game and is now second amongst active NCAA players) and has also racked up 10 career forced fumbles and 21.5 sacks. He's on the watch lists for the Lombardi, Outland and Nagurski awards. Perhaps most impressively, Nix is already a three-time All-MAC performer going for four in a row. In 2010 he also became the first freshman in the history of the MAC to be named Defensive Player of the Year. To say the least, he'll be a priority for the LSU offensive line Saturday night.
Senior defensive end Mark Fackler is the only other player on the D-Line to amass double-digit starts in his KSU career (he has 16). The smallish, but athletic defensive front for KSU has combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks through two games in 2013. A lot like LSU's opener versus TCU, which also runs a 4-2-5, look for Kent State to crowd the line of scrimmage and swarm to the ball, forcing the Tigers to beat them through the air.
After Nix the most tenured and decorated defender for the Flashes is senior strong safety Luke Wollet. A two-time All-MAC defender, Wollet finished second on the team last season with 119 tackles. Through two games this season, Wollet, who has a penchant for going down into the box, has 15 tackles. He's the only returning starter in the KSU secondary, which does included a pair of seniors at cornerback in Darius Polk and Malcolm Pannell.
It's the second level of defense where Kent State has virtually had to start over after losing two all-conference linebackers from a season ago, including middle LB Luke Batton and his ridiculous 143 tackles in 2012. Sophomore Matt Dellinger has stepped into Batton's former role and currently leads the team with 18 tackles. Next to him is junior DeVante' Strickland, who did set a career high in tackles last week with 11 stops versus Bowling Green.
Sophomore ‘Star' Jordan Italiano is the Flashes' wildcard. Playing a position that's meant to be equally flexible between the run and pass, Italiano has registered seven tackles on the young season. Expect the 5-10, 201-pounder to be KSU's third linebacker in heavier defensive fronts but also pick up coverage matchups against LSU's tight ends and running backs.
Finally, should Kent State have any designs on keeping this game remotely close, it will have to show the ability to turn over LSU. Through two games, the Flashes haven't been able to do that, causing zero turnovers.
How does the Kent State defense stack up against LSU's offense?