Kent State will make their fifth appearance at a MU Homecoming, having beaten Marshall in 1952-54-56 but losing in 2000 34-12. This will be the first ever Homecoming game held on October 11 and the third earliest date for Homecoming in history (October 1 in 1983 and October 8 in 1988. In addition, Homecoming was held on Thanksgiving from 1895 through World War II).
Kent State will have played twice at home before the Marshall game. They upended UCF 36-16 on September 27, going 2-0 in MAC play for the first time since 1986. The Flashes were unable to extend the hot start at the Kent State Homecoming this past weekend, falling to Ball State 34-17, after leading in the game17-14 midway through the second quarter. Talmadge Hill led the Cardinals to 20 straight points with a 16-of-27 performance for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
Previously, the Flashes started the season with a bang, knocking off favored cross-town (and Mid-American Conference East Division) rival Akron, 41-38, in the season's opening game. Quarterback Joshua Cribbs (6-1, 200) hit on a career-best 25-of-43 attempts, for 340 yards and three scores, also career marks. Kent State would lose at Pittsburgh 43-3, then defeated nearby rival I-AA Youngstown State for the first time in three years in the home opener, 16-13. The Flashes dropped to 2-2 with a 32-10 loss to the Nittany Lions at Penn State on September 20 but were 3-2, 2-0 after beating UCF.
The Marshall game is the only away game in a five game stretch for Kent State. They return home after the Herd to host UConn and Miami before getting an open date on November 1. Coach Dean Pees is in the sixth year of running the Flashes and was 14-46 coming into the UCF contest. He took Kent State to a 6-5 mark in 2001, the first winning season at Kent State since 1987 and only the second in 25 years for the Flashes.
Cribbs, the Flashes' quarterback, is the oil that makes the wheels turn at Kent State. He entered his junior year in 2003 trying to become the first player in Division I-A history to post three "double-doubles," having rushed and passed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. Cribbs led all quarterbacks in rushing with 105.7 yards per game in 2002 and ranked 28th in the country in rushing per game. He also hit for 91-of-186, for 1,014 yards, four touchdowns but 14 interceptions. So far, he has thrown for 78-of-158 for 852 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions, but his high ankle sprain has limited Cribbs to 155 net yards on the ground.
Backing up Cribbs is red-shirt freshman Antwan Smith (6-2, 195) and junior Darryl Polk (6-0, 205), who led the team to victory against Buffalo last year in his first start when Cribbs was injured. Polk was named "Most Improved Offensive Player" for 2002 at Kent State.
New Offensive Coordinator Doug Martin (1-4 against Marshall as Offensive Coordinator at both East Tennessee State, from 1988-91, and East Carolina at the 2001 GMAC Bowl) has changed the offense to a multiple, three wide receiver which hopefully lead to more open-field opportunities. One big thing that has changed, however, is at tailback, where senior David Alston (5-10, 205) has been lost for the year after an injury-filled junior season that saw him only play in four games. In 2001, Alston was second-team All-MAC, when he rushed for 633 yards and 5.3 yards per carry as a sophomore. Behind him are two freshmen, Elijah Brooks (5-9, 215), last year's "Outstanding Scout Team Player," and Luke Tillman (6-0, 210). These players have rushed, along with another freshman, Kevin Beverly (5-11, 200) have rushed for 368 yards in limited action but had three fumbles against Ball State.
Receiver has four of the top five men back, including junior Darrell Dowery, Jr. (6-0, 170), who led the team with 34 catches for 348 yards. Also back is senior Daryl Moore (5-10, 185), who had 14 receptions for 178 yards last year. The "H" receiver is the backup quarterback, Antwan Smith, who is too good an athlete to leave on the bench behind Cribbs, and backing him up is sophomore Derrick Bush (5-11, 200) who had 20 catches for 209 yards as a true freshman including a 35-yard score to beat Cal-Poly.
Another pair of receivers who will play are red-shirt frosh Najah Pruden (6-3, 185) and senior Maurio Medley (6-7, 220). At tight end, senior Neil Buckosh (6-3, 230, 12-85, 0 TD) has 17 starts in his career and came into the year with 28 catches. Behind him are red-shirt frosh Jim Alexander (6-5, 245) and junior Charles Newton (6-0, 225).
On the offensive line, the leader is senior center Steve Smith (6-4, 280). He has been named to Athlon's and Lindy's pre-season All-MAC teams and is a third-year starter for Kent State. Smith is an Academic All-American candidate who has graduated magna cum laude with a degree in technology this past spring and is in grad school.
The Flashes lost returning left tackle Jason Andrews, so they have been forced to flip returning right tackle and fellow junior Chad Bandiera (6-3, 315) to the left side to protect Cribb's blind side. Sophomore Daniel Carter (6-3, 310), who was the projected starter at left guard, has moved to starting at right tackle. The two guard are being played by a red-shirt freshman, Craig Rafdal (6-4, 300), on the left side and West Virginia native and senior, Shaun Sarrett (6-6, 300) of Beckley, playing the right guard. Youngsters make up the backups, with sophomore Luke McKenzie (6-3, 270) freshmen Tony Geoghagan (6-2, 280) and Nate Manning (6-3, 280) filling those roles.
Tomorrow, the defense is now in the hands of head coach Dean Pees. Let us see how the Flashes have responded to the head man taking the reins.