The Kent State Golden Flashes (2-3, 1-1 MAC), coming off a big win at Western Michigan and three straight road games, are finally back at home this week where they will host the Northern Illinois Huskies (4-0). NIU is playing its first conference game and its fourth road game in five weeks. The Huskies are fresh off a win at Purdue, where they spoiled the Boilermakers homecoming 55-24 and will look to do the same this week.
Just 309 days ago, these two teams squared off in the MAC Championship game, the Huskies edging Kent State 44-37 in double overtime. So far this year, it looks like NIU could make it back to the championship game but, for the Flashes, the season hasn't started out the way they would have liked.
Kent State has had a tough schedule to their season, after their opening week win against Liberty, they played a good Bowling Green team, then went on the road to play at No. 8 LSU and Penn State before WMU last week. The good news for Kent State...senior running back Dri Archer has returned! In last weeks 32-14 drubbing of Western Michigan, Archer averaged over 12 yards both per carry and per catch (73 yards on 6 rushes and 4 receptions for 48 yards) in limited playing time. The bad news...NIU comes to town.
Historically the Huskies have handled Kent State, going 17-7 against the Flashes. They have won the last six meetings and 9 of the last 10, dating back to 1982 (only losing in 2001). But its not just Kent that the Huskies have played well against lately...it has been the entire MAC. The Huskies have won 17 straight conference games, the longest streak in the NCAA, last losing to CMU more than two years ago, on October 1, 2011.
After last week, the Huskies jumped to No. 23 in the Coaches Poll and were just shy of appearing in the AP poll, coming in at #26. It was the most complete game they had played, and they'll need to do that again if they want to win at Dix Stadium. Senior quarterback Jordan Lynch, has played superbly in the first four games - statistically out doing his totals from last season. Along with Lynch's performance, NIU has had great rushing performances by junior Cameron Stingily this season. Stingily is averaging over 5 yards per carry this season and has tallied over 200 yards in the last two games.
While the Flashes have struggled offensively this year so far, they have played great defensive teams and were without their star player for most of their first five games. Last week they broke out for 32 points against the Broncos, gaining over 450 yards, their most by far this season. Couple that with an NIU defense that has also looked weak throughout the year, and the Flashes should be able to score.
The Huskie defense is still one of the most penalized teams, almost 10 per game (120th in the country, out of 125). They have given up tons of yards every week, including last week, where an anemic Purdue offense gained over 500 yards. NIU's defense is as bipolar a unit as there ever was in football. On one hand, they are sixth in the nation in turnover margin (+6, forcing 13 turnovers), they are tied for the most sacks in the NCAA with 17 (4.25 sacks per game), and are 13th in tackles for loss. However, that same unit is giving up over 31 points per game this season, over 332 passing yards per game (2nd to last in the NCAA), and over 500 total yards per game (118th in the country). Those last numbers are a recipe for disaster.
With Kent State's playmakers, like Archer and fellow halfback Trayion Durham, the Flashes could, and should, move the ball quickly and score. If they can limit their turnovers against the Huskies and protect quarterback Colin Reardon from NIU's pass rush they should be able to put up points and keep it close. NIU will score, that much we know. But if Kent can keep Lynch and company out of the endzone the Flashes could have the homecoming they want. Otherwise, look for NIU to win their 18th conference game in a row and spoil two homecoming games in as many weeks.
Prediction: NIU-45 Kent State-31