In 2012, the Bowling Green Falcons and Kent State Golden Flashes met at BGSU's Doyt Perry Stadium on the next-to-last weekend of the season. KSU was 6-0 in MAC play, while the Falcons entered the game 5-1. On the line? A likely berth in the MAC Championship game -- all the Flashes needed was a win, while the Falcons needed to win plus win the following game.
What ensued was a game that did not disappoint. The lead was no more than ten points at any time in the game and never more than seven in the second half. There were huge plays galore, including an astounding four touchdowns of more than 70 yards. Two each took place in the second and fourth quarters -- and both times, they occurred on back-to-back plays from scrimmage. Ultimately, Kent State won, 31-24, to take the division title.
Just shy of ten months later, these two teams meet again. This time, the majority of the season in front of them; in fact, this is the first Mid-American Conference game of the year. However, the implications of this game are no less important than they were almost a year ago. The race for the Eastern Division title is expected to be close and include as many as three or four teams. Any conference loss, but notably one in the division to a fellow title contender, is a harmful one.
Neither team can afford a loss here, but someone will walk away with one on Saturday afternoon. How will this game play out? Let's take a look...
WHEN KENT STATE HAS THE BALL...
This is probably the most intriguing part of this game, for several reasons. Tops among those is the health of Dri Archer. Recently, John Wagner (BGSU beat writer from the Toledo Blade) asked a few questions of Stephanie Storm, Kent State's beat writer from the Akron Beacon-Journal. Here are here answers. Among that information was an injury update on Archer. It appears that he's been without the walking boot all week and has been walking without a noticeable limp. However, he has not participated in drills at practice.
Archer is the engine that makes Kent State's offense go. They struggled enough last week against Liberty without him; going up against a Bowling Green defense that mauled Conference USA-favorite Tulsa is another thing entirely. If Archer is 100 percent, then the Flashes' offense is much more dynamic, and he can take a lot of the pressure off redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon. If he is not at 100 percent (or doesn't play at all), Reardon will assume much more responsibility.
In any event, what has to concern Kent State on offense is that Bowling Green shut down a team last week with very similar capabilities as KSU. Bowling Green blitzed -- a lot -- but was also very prepared for the bubble screens and stretch runs that Tulsa threw at the BGSU defense. The Falcon secondary also did an excellent job of coverage, which freed up linebackers to help at the line of scrimmage.
With BGSU facing a quarterback making just his second start, my suspicion is that the Falcons will again try to blitz with the hope of forcing Reardon into mistakes against an experienced secondary. If Archer is healthy, his speed would help mitigate those blitzes quite a bit, but without his speed, the Falcons can commit those extra rushers. What KSU really needs is for receivers Tyshon Goode and Chris Humphrey to get separation at the line of scrimmage and allow Reardon to get rid of the ball quickly. Last week, Tulsa receivers were not able to do that against Bowling Green.
WHEN BOWLING GREEN HAS THE BALL...
Matt Johnson was named BGSU's starting quarterback for this week's game following his performance last week against Tulsa. While his passing against the Golden Hurricane could best be described as uneven, he did lead the Falcons on several scoring drives and appeared to provide a spark that Matt Schilz couldn't.
Once again, look for the Falcons to use a heavy run-first approach. Travis Greene should start at tailback but will be spelled by others, including Ronnie Moore, Jordan Hopgood and Andre Givens. Fred Coppet may also see a few carries. At the goal line, William Houston has already established himself as the go-to player, as he scored three touchdowns in his Falcon debut last week, all from the one-yard line.
When the Falcons throw the ball, they will look to Chris Gallon. Gallon torched the Kent State defense last year to the tune of ten catches and 213 yards. That total includes touchdown receptions of 72 and 81 yards. Shaun Joplin also got involved with five catches of his own for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Those two will have to contend with two of the best defensive backs in the conference, Luke Wollet and Darius Polk. Wollet and Polk combined for 177 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, three sacks and six interceptions last year. Wollet alone has ten career interceptions and, against BGSU in 2012, had 13 tackles and an interception. Those two are joined by two new starters in the secondary, including junior cornerback Dylan Farrington. Farrington played in all 14 games last year and made eight starts. When he played, he produced 28 tackles and six pass break-ups.
The other big defensive threat that Falcons' coach Dave Clawson will have to deal with is senior defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix. Nix was a first-team All-MAC selection last season and was placed on Phil Steele's preseason All-American fourth team. In his career, he has 20.5 sacks and 52.5 tackles for loss. In 2012 alone, he made 59 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and six sacks. Against BGSU, Nix ended the game with seven tackles and two pass break-ups. Going up against an offensive line with two brand-new starters at both tackle positions, Nix could pose serious problems for BGSU's running game and could be a disruptive force against the pass, as well. The Falcons may well have to double- (or even triple-) team him, which would open up doors for other problems.
ON SPECIAL TEAMS...
BGSU had no special teams issues in the first game. Kicker Tyler Tate made all six of his kicks, including field goals of 34 and 28 yards. Punter Brian Schmiedebusch had a 39.3 average on seven punts. Four of those went inside the 20 yard line, and two were fair caught. On kickoffs, Anthony Farinella managed a 58.4 average on seven tries and posted one touchback. Ronnie Moore had only one kickoff return, and that went 29 yards. Meanwhile, Ryan Burbrink took one of his three punt returns for a 67-yard touchdown.
Kent State's Anthony Melchiori has assumed all kicking duties for the Golden Flashes. He had a very good day against Liberty last week, as he made a 39-yard field goal among his three successful kicks. His four punts averaged 42.2 yards, and three of those four were fair caught. Melchiori also had four kickoffs that averaged 65 yards. Those four included two touchbacks. However, without Dri Archer, KSU's return game did not accomplish much. Ernest Calhoun had the team's only kick return, which traveled 24 yards. Four punt returns split equally between Luke Wollet and Josh Boyle went only a total of four net yards.
I had last week's BGSU-Tulsa game pegged as a high-scoring affair and was proven wrong. I want to say that this game will also be high-scoring, but I just can't pull the trigger this time.
Kent State has some very good playmakers on defense, both on the front end and in the secondary; in fact, I'd argue that their defense right now is better than Tulsa's. Also, BGSU is clearly experiencing some growing pains on the offensive line and is unsure where their quarterback situation is going to go. Also, Dri Archer's injury clouds everything that the Flashes might do on offense. Maybe he's healthy and the lack of practice is just a precautionary measure -- but even then, BGSU's defense somehow actually looks better than it did last year, even without Chris Jones and Dwayne Woods.
Anyone expecting the barnburner that took place between these two is probably going to be disappointed. Rather than huge plays on offense, forced errors by the defense are likely to determine this game's outcome. Remember, one huge difference between last year's game and this year's is the quarterbacks. Last year, both were experienced veterans. This year, the two starters have two combined career starts.
With that said, this should be an awesome showcase of #MACtion and a great way to kick-off the conference season. Personally, I cannot wait to be a part of the Dix Stadium crowd. It should be a great atmosphere.
If you can't be at the game and want to watch on television (or the internet), here's a handy guide (provided by BGSU Athletic Communications).