When the Buckeyes take to the field in week 3, they’ll do it against a familiar state of Ohio foe in the Kent State Golden Flashes. It will mark the first time since ’02 that the Buckeyes and Flashes have battled. Ohio State trounced Josh Cribbs and the Flashes that day 51-17 despite giving up over a 100 yards on the ground that day to Cribbs. Ohio State hasn’t lost to an instate opponent since 1921 when the mighty Yoemen of Oberlin College defeated OSU.
The Buckeyes will be coming off of a night battle versus Virginia Tech whereas the Golden Flashes will make their first trip on the road in 2014 after home games versus Ohio and the South Alabama Jaguars.
This will also mark the return of Paul Haynes back to Ohio Stadium. Paul Haynes led Kent State to a disappointing 4-8 record in his first season as head coach in 2013, but he’s hoping to get his alma mater back on track starting in 2014.
The Golden Flashes will be without their do everything running back Dri Archer, who’s moved on to the NFL. The offense will only work under four conditions: one, the running game rediscovers the big play; two, the running game succeeds on first down; three, the line continues to excel in protection; and four, the passing game finds success on non-traditional downs. Becoming a touch more untraditional will help this offense move the football even as it undergoes a slight transition in personnel.
One returnee will dictate the tempo, if he gets help on the ground: Colin Reardon (1,957 yards and 12 touchdowns) enters his second season as the Flashes’ quarterback with the potential for noticeable improvement should the offense keep his back away from the wall – meaning Reardon can produce, but only if the opposition can’t key into the passing game. For this offense as a whole, putting Reardon into more manageable situations is of the highest priority; the only way to ensure his production is with a healthy running game.
Reardon’s totals when KSU rushed for 200 yards on the ground: 67-of-107 – 62.6% clip – with five touchdowns against two picks. When the Flashes averaged less than four yards per carry against the FBS, on the other hand: 52-of-89 with one score against three interceptions. Simplified, yes, but an adequate way to gauge how Reardon can succeed when combined with the Flashes’ hot-and-cold running game. And when he’s on – and put into good down and distances – Reardon can absolutely find holes in the secondary both in the pocket and out, giving this offense a solid foundation at the position. Having said that, let’s not forget: KSU has a really nice redshirt freshman in Nathan Strock, who showed during the spring that he’s ready to take on a role should Reardon not build on his rookie season.
Reardon has identified his favorite targets in the passing game. One is senior Chris Humphrey (51 receptions for 613 yards), the sophomore’s go-to option on first and second down. The second is tight end Casey Pierce (33 for 364), the Flashes’ best weapon in the red zone. The offense also returns junior Josh Boyle (19 for 210) and sophomores William Woods and Ernest Calhoun while breaking into the mix a quintet of second-year players with the athleticism to change the dynamics of the passing game. Kent State has surrounded Reardon with a nice array of choices.
On defense, no unit faces as many questions as the Flashes’ defensive front, which replaces four of its top five – including tackle Roosevelt Nix – while attempting to sew up an ineffective pass rush. While the search for edge pressure continues, they’ll focus on an interior retooling without Nix and Andrew Christopher.
The interior will get a little bigger, if less disruptive: Chris Fairchild, about 315 pounds, will take on a larger role in the rotation. To match Nix, the Flashes need more consistency from junior Nate Terhune, who has shown an ability to break into the backfield. More size is on the way in true freshmen Kalil Morris and Zack Singer. KSU also loses two of its top three at defensive end, though senior Nate Vance (46 tackles, 3.5 sacks) is a borderline all MAC contender, sophomore Terrence Waugh is athletic and junior Clay Miller could serve in a role in certain packages. You can see KSU’s plan, but three issues of concern remain in play: Nix can’t be replaced, the front lacks explosiveness and the interior remains too small.
Then there are the two promising factors seen along the back seven: Kent State is both experienced and brimming with freshmen and sophomores. In this case, the only concern revolves around the play up front; inadequate production from the line could nullify KSU’s back-seven advantage. At linebacker, the Flashes seem content with using the hot hand from the trio of senior DeVante’ Strickland (53 tackles), junior Matt Dellinger (77 tackles) and sophomore Darius Redmond (40 tackles), with each filling a certain role in the defense – with Dellinger a near constant in the middle – depending on offensive alignment. A pair of redshirt freshman add depth, with Kentrell Taylor stepping in behind Dellinger and Ryan Seibert a lanky reserve behind Strickland and Redmond on the outside.
The Flashes will need a miracle and a missing in action Ohio State offense to pull off an upset in Columbus on September 13th. Kent State should be but a mere tune up before heading into their first bye week before preparing for Cincinnati the following week. The Buckeyes roll in this one 65-14.
Stop back next week and we’ll preview week 5 and the Buckeyes 4th opponent, the Cincinnati Bearcats.