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2016 MAC Football Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes @ Miami RedHawks

Kent State travels to Oxford in a must win conference game

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Kent State rolls into Oxford, Ohio Saturday on the heels of an impressive offensive output where they had their highest point total since 2013. The 44-20 win over Buffalo saw the continued emergence of converted junior quarterback Nick Holley as he racked up long runs of 65 and 67 yards on the way to four touchdowns.

The suddenly potent (yes it was just Buffalo, but still) Kent State offense will be looking to Holley once again as the Golden Flashes now have an outside shot at bowl eligibility coming into the weekend with a 2-4 overall record. If those lofty dreams of bowl games are to be met, this game against Miami is a must win.

Despite Miami coming into the game winless with a 0-6 overall record, they are better than that number would indicate. In four of the six games, Miami has outgained their opponent and narrowly lost to a very competent Cincinnati team on the road.

In MAC play, the Miami defense has been extremely good, leading the conference in yards allowed with an average of 248 per game. The problem, which was similar to that of Kent State, the offense has had problems hanging onto the football. Through the first six games this season, Miami has turned the ball over 14 times, six interceptions and eight fumbles. That high number is largely the reason why the scoring defense doesn’t match up with the yardage totals for Miami.

To make matters more difficult for Miami, the offense has not only struggled to hang onto the ball, but also to find the end zone. The highest point total that Miami has been able to muster is 24 against Western Kentucky and in the two MAC games this season Miami has put up 20 points combined.

The offense simply put has been poor and doesn’t look to improve as starting quarterback Billy Bahl is a question mark for the weekend, meaning true freshman Noah Wezensky could be in line to make just his second career start. If Wezensky does indeed receive the nod to start against Kent State, he won’t likely find much relief in the run game as Miami for the season has averaged just 2.7 yards per rush as a team. Leading rusher, Alonzo Smith comes into the game with 354 yards on the season and a 3.9 yard per carry average.

On the flip side of the ball, Kent State boasts a safety that is finally starting to turn heads nationally in Nate Holley. In the mid-season best player rankings, Holley comes in 10th nationally and deservedly so as he leads the nation in solo tackles. The Kent State defense is stacked with experience and talent across the board and should cause the Miami offense plenty of problems.

When Kent State has the ball, it is obviously all about Nick Holley. With the team leading receiver and second leading rusher Justin Rankin a huge question mark after suffering a lower leg injury a week ago, Holley will likely be encouraged to keep the ball more on the option runs. Taking Rankin’s spot should he miss the game, will likely be a combination of Will Matthews and Myles Washington, both backs in the big physical mold.

I would expect Kent State to once again be creative in their play calling, mixing a good deal of wide receiver sweeps, option type plays, and roll out passing plays. Keep in mind, despite Nick Holley’s success through his first two games at quarterback, he is still very inexperienced and Miami probably has a better defense than either Buffalo or Akron.

Fortunately for Kent State, the numbers indicate that the strength of the Miami defense is against the pass as they rank second in the MAC during conference play. That should mean, Kent State will be able to find success once again in the run game and control the clock.

Despite the poor records by both teams, there is a lot on the line as Miami head coach Chuck Martin is on the hot seat, perhaps undeservedly so and Kent State desperately need a win to stay in the MAC East discussion. Be sure to tune in on ESPN3 at 2:30p.m. to watch this MAC East clash.