Non-Conference Preview, Part 3

I resume my pre-season tour of Rutgers' non-conference opponents. This is the third in a five part series beginning with a look at struggling Kent State. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES PREVIEW


Long an also-ran in the Mid American Conference, Kent State is trying to break into the upper division of the suddenly competitive league.  The Golden Flashes have had one winning season (6-5 in 2001) in the past sixteen years.  Kent State has a 34-game losing streak to non-conference Division IA opponents, dating back to 1988.  Former Head Coach Dean Pees, who came to Kent State after as stint as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State, compiled a 17-51 (13-35 MAC) during six seasons.  Last season, Pees hired a new offensive coordinator – former East Carolina OC Doug Martin.  Martin instituted the spread offense that he had used at East Carolina.  The passing offense improved by 100 yards per game while the scoring offense increased by a margin of 10 points per game.  With the new system, the Golden Flash offense was among the most prolific in the MAC.  However, a porous defense offset the offense, as Kent State (5-7, 4-4 MAC) lost many shootouts. 

Pees resigned in February, after the conclusion of recruiting season, to accept a position with the New England Patriots as a linebacker coach.  Martin was promoted to replace Pees.  Martin retained the incumbent staff, ensuring continuity.  Martin returns 16 starters – plus both kickers – from a team striving for relevancy.  If new defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis – the former DC at Youngstown State – can improve the awful defense, Kent State could break into the upper division of the MAC.  The Golden Flashes may not contend for the MAC East Division crown, but Kent State could make some noise.  Here's a look at the struggling Golden Flashes of Kent State. 


OFFENSE

Kent State lost only three starters from a balanced but mediocre offense that improved over the final half of the season, scoring at least 30 points in each of its final six games.  The Golden Flashes employ a spread offense that includes an option element.  The offense is equally adept at running or passing.  However, the ground game is heavily reliant upon contributions from the QB.  Kent State's 2003 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 156 rushing yards per game (#57 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 220 passing yards per game (#56 in Division 1A)
  • 376 total yards per game (#62 in Division 1A)
  • 27 points per game (#61 in Division 1A)


The Kent State offense revolves around three-year starter and three-time leading rusher Sr QB Joshua Cribbs (178 of 364 for 2,424 yards, 14 TDs, and 9 INTs plus 161 carries for 701 yards and 14 TDs).  Cribbs is a dual-purpose threat, as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm.  He is only the second player in Division IA history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in two seasons.  Cribbs was suspended after an arrest for marijuana possession and missed all of spring camp, part of summer camp, and the season opener at Iowa.  Backup QB RS So Antwan Smith (8 of 17 for 148 yards and 2 TDs plus 20 carries for 92 yards plus 18 receptions for 194 yards and 2 TDs) is a triple-threat player who also saw action as a backup SB last season.  Cribbs' accuracy and decision-making are suspect and his suspension cost him much-needed practice repetitions to iron those wrinkles in his game.  He will still be working off rust early in the season. 

Kent State returns five of its top six receivers but the unit is suddenly thin.  Only starting WR Daryl Moore (26 receptions for 362 yards and 2 TDs) and TE Neil Buckosh (14 receptions for 98 yards) were lost off the two-deep.  Leading receiver Sr WR Darrell Dowery (41 receptions for 783 yards and 4 TDs) and Jr SB Derrick Bush (21 receptions for 306 yards) return.  Former backup WR RS So Najah Pruden (21 receptions for 364 yards and 2 TDs) will replace Moore in the starting lineup.  Former backup TE/FB RS Sr Charlie Newton (15 carries for 25 yards and 2 TDs plus 5 receptions for 73 yards) will replace Buckosh in the versatile role while So Luke Tillman will serve as his backup.  Backup WR RS So Brian Bell (19 receptions for 237 yards) suffered a knee injury during spring camp and his availability early in the season is uncertain.  Antwan Smith, who was the backup SB last season, will concentrate on his backup QB duties.  Former starting OLB Sr Antonio King was switched to backup WR in summer camp.  RS Fr WR JE Frederickson and walkon So SB Marcus Hill will complete the second team.  Martin has an experienced starting cast but his second unit, if missing Bell, is very inexperienced. 

Kent State lost two starters off an OLine that neither run- nor pass-blocked proficiently.  Three-year starter C Steve Smith and starting RG Shaun Sarrett departed.  Backup C Tony Geoghagan apparently left the team prematurely after his freshman season.  Two-year starter RS Sr LT Jason Andrews, who missed much of last season with a broken leg, returns to anchor the OLine.  Sr LG Chad Bandiera and RS Jr RT Daniel Carter also return.  Former backup LG RS So Craig Rafdel, who started at LG while Bandiera filled the injured Andrews' vacated LT slot last season, will start at RG in place of Sarrett.  RS Fr C Kiff Kinkhead will replace Smith in the starting lineup.  Younger players have displaced former backups RS Jr LT Luke McKenzie, RS So RG Frank Isenberg, and RS So Nate Manning.  RS Fr LT Justin Aderhold, RS Fr RT Joe Marafine, RS Fr RG Dan Durante, RS Fr C Bill Starry, and true Fr LG Travis McGraw, a spring enrollee, constitute the second unit.  Martin has an experienced OLine, except at center, but his second unit is young and inexperienced. 

The Kent State backfield was a committee effort last year.  Starting RB Sr David Alston (79 carries for 327 yards) was injured mid-season with a broken foot.  It was his second injury-shortened season.  Former backup RB RS So Elijah Brooks (113 carries for 409 yards plus 7 receptions for 54 yards), who replaced the injured Alston in the starting lineup, transferred to William & Mary.  Former third team RB So Kevin Beverly (74 carries for 266 yards and 5 TDs plus 7 receptions for 73 yards) will likely replace Brooks as Altson's backup.  Alston is a promising feature back but he has been injury-prone.  If Alston can stay healthy, Cribbs will not have to carry such a heavy load for the offense.  


DEFENSE

Kent State lost three starters from one of the nation's worst defenses.  The Golden Flashes still employ the 3-4 scheme used by Pees, who also served as defensive coordinator last year.  The DLine uses two DTs rather than two DEs.  This alignment implies that one of the OLBs aligns over the TE on the line of scrimmage.  The front line was very undersized with a small NT and a converted OLB playing DE.  The Golden Flash defense could not stop the run or the pass last season.  Kent State's 2003 defensive statistics are summarized below. 

  • 201 rushing yards per game (#100 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 261 passing yards per game (#106 in Division 1A)
  • 462 total yards per game (#110 in Division 1A)
  • 33 points per game (#97 in Division 1A)


The linebacking corps was the most productive unit on the Kent State defense last year.  Three-year starter and second leading tackler Anthony Henriquez (114 tackles and 3.5 TFLs) and backup ILB Jeff Jensen (15 tackles) departed.  Starting OLB Sr Antonio King (47 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 2 sacks), a former backup RB, was switched back to offense in summer camp as a backup WR.  Former backup OLB RS So Bruce Rice (14 tackles and 1.5 TFLs) was switched to DE in spring camp.  Two-year starter and leading tackler Sr Eric Mahl (126 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, and 4 FR) is the leader of the defense.  Starting OLB  Sr Damian Stolowski (45 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, and 2 FR) also returns.  Jr ILB John Sessler (32 tackles) will replace Henriquez while former backup DE Jr Justin Parrish (46 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 2 FR) will swap starting positions with Rice.  Backup OLB RS Jr Marcus Robinson (7 tackles) also returns.  RS So ILB Justin Murphy, So OLB Jonathan Eggleston (6 tackles), and true Fr ILB Derek Burrell will likely complete the second unit.  The starting unit is experienced but lacks playmakers while the second team has very little experience. 

Although Kent State returns intact its starting secondary, the starting lineup will look very different this year.  Backup CB Ray Coley (8 tackles) was the only departure from the two deep.  However, backup CB RS Jr Tyrell McElroy (5 tackles) and backup FS So Jon Drager (16 tackles) were switched to SB in spring camp.  Starting CBs Jr Barry Drakeford (78 tackles and 5 TFLs) and So Usama Young (49 tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 FR) return.  Former three-year starter and third leading tackler Sr FS Shannon Davis (98 tackles, 3 TFLs, and 2 INTs) and former starting SS Vashawn Patrick (94 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 2 INTs) will likely be displaced form the starting lineup.  RS Sr SS Abram Elam, who transferred from Notre Dame two years ago amid sexual assault allegations in South Bend, and former backup SS RS Sr Andre Ashley (23 tackles) will replace Patrick and Davis in the starting lineup.  Davis will backup Ashley while Patrick will backup Elam.  RS Fr CB Jack Williams and RS Fr CB Darrell Price will likely backup Drakeford and Young.  Kent State has a veteran secondary, especially at safety.  The added experience and the displacement of incumbent starters may improve the pass defense.  

Kent State suffered heavy losses from an undersized DLine.  Two-year starter DT Alan Williams (32 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks) and backup DT Tom Crock (13 tackles) departed.  Also, former starting DT Tomas Rodriguez (8 tackles and 2 TFLs) suffered a season -ending knee injury in September and apparently will not return to the football program.  Former backup DT Delvin Barker (32 tackles, 7 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 2 FF) left the program prematurely.  Former starting NT Jr Daniel Muir (46 tackles and 7.5 TFLs) was switched to DE in spring camp, from which he will start.  Former backup OLB Bruce Rice was switched to DE in spring camp and earned the starting nod.  Former backup NT RS Jr Roger Attieh (13 tackles and 1.5 TFLs) will replace Muir as that starting NT.  RS Fr NT Mark Malloy, RS Fr DT Colin Ferrell, and RS Fr DE Anthony Durgarte will form the second unit.  Attrition has hit the DLine very hard and the unit is not expected to improve significantly. 


SPECIAL TEAMS

Kent State returns all of its specialists.  Two-year starter RS Jr PK Travis Mayle (16 of 24 FGAs and 33 of 35 XPAs) and RS Jr P Joshua Braze (40 yards per punt) will again handle the kicking chores.  Sr KOR Antonio King (21 yards per return) likely will resume those duties again.  So PR Jon Drager (7 yards per return) has been replaced by Sr WR Darrell Dowery.  The Kent State kickers are solid but their returners are mediocre. 


SCHEDULE

Kent State has an eleven game schedule with only five home games.  The Golden Flashes have two bye weeks – in late October after playing for seven consecutive weeks and in late mid-November, before the season finale.  Kent State plays once on Thursday – hosting Akron – and once on Tuesday – the season finale at Central Florida after a bye week.  The Golden Flashes have a balanced non-conference schedule featuring Iowa, Rutgers, and Division IAA Liberty.  Kent State will play eight conference games in the MAC.  The Golden Flashes drew a tremendously favorable league schedule – playing Western Division bottom feeders Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan in their two crossover games.  Kent State also hosts Akron, whom the Golden Flashes are chasing in the standings.  Games against Marshall and at Miami (OH) appear out of reach regardless of locations.  A trip to Central Florida will be a challenge for Kent State to not fall back into the second division.  Kent State should sweep its home schedule with the likely exception of Marshall.  Road games at Iowa, Rutgers, and Miami (OH) appear out of reach but visits to Central Michigan, Buffalo, and Central Florida are very winnable games.  The key games of the season will be against Akron and at Central Florida. 

 

September 4

@ Iowa

September 11

Liberty

September 18

@ Rutgers

September 23

Akron

October 2

@ Central Michigan

October 9

@ Miami, OH

October 16

Marshall

October 30

Ohio

November 6

@ Buffalo

November 13

Eastern Michigan

November 23

@ Central Florida

 

PREDICTION

I predict the Golden Flashes will finish 6-5 (5-3).  Kent State will extend its Division IA non-conference losing streak with losses to Iowa and Rutgers.  The Golden Flashes will win their showdown with Akron and will beat Central Michigan, too.  Losses to Miami and Marshall will follow but Kent State will rebound with three straight wins.  The Golden Flashes will lose the season finale at Central Florida but nonetheless will complete only their second winning season in seventeen years. 


Coming Next:  Keys to the Kent State Game.  I'll review the five keys to a very important bounce back win for Rutgers.  I'll also identify five key players whose contributions will be essential to a win. 


Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the Kent State game with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 


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