The MAC East won’t be won Saturday at Dix stadium for Ohio University, but they could certainly fatally damage their chances of winning it. With a difficult three week stretch upcoming for the Bobcats with away games against Toledo and Central Michigan, head coach Frank Solich will want to secure what appears to be an easy victory against a banged up Kent State.
Coming into this weekend, Ohio sits at 2-1 in conference play and 4-3 overall, tied with Akron for first place in what looks like a two horse race in the MAC East. Despite currently leading the division, Ohio hasn’t inspired much confidence for those that have actually watched the games. Inconsistency has marred even the wins. The combined record of the four teams Ohio has beaten is 6-21 with five of those victories being against FCS opposition. Simply put, Ohio’s 4-3 record might just be deceiving and Kent State could pull off an upset.
Kent State of course has had their own problems, both moving the ball on offense and sustaining consistent effort on the defensive side. They come into the Saturday home game with a 1-2 record in the conference after heart breaking losses to both Akron and Miami. In both of those games, Kent State had a late lead and perhaps a different season would have seen the Golden Flashes 3-0 in MAC play.
Alas that is not the case and Kent State is now forced to pull off a slew of upsets to even finish the season .500.
With the status of quarterback Nick Holley and star freshman running back Justin Rankin in question for Kent State, the offense could struggle mightily. Without Holley, coach Paul Haynes might be forced into starting George Bollas once again, a proposition no Golden Flashes fan will relish. Bollas is certainly capable if surrounded by playmakers at receiver and a functional running game, but Kent State has proven that hasn’t been the case for most of the season.
If Rankin and Holley can both give it a go Saturday, expect a solid dose of the running game once again, however Ohio does counter with the top ranked MAC rushing defense. That defense is led by an intimidating defensive line who pile up sacks for fun and lead the MAC in a per game average. If the ball carriers do get past the defensive line, they have to contend with a fantastic linebacking group led by Quentin Poling and Blair Brown.
This bleak outlook for the Kent State offense leads me to believe that the defense will once again have to carry the team and either keep the score in the 10-14 range or force a basketful of turnovers to keep up.
The leader of that Ohio Bobcat offense is still in question as we are likely to see a timeshare at quarterback as normal starter Greg Windham excited the game last game in favor of freshman Quinton Maxwell. Maxwell did his part a week ago throwing for 188 yards and a touchdown in the loss against Eastern Michigan. If given the start, Maxwell will see significant time on the road for the first time in his career.
Whoever is the Ohio quarterback of choice, they will have the security of a solid bunch of receivers led by senior Sebastian Smith who is only 49 receptions behind LaVon Brazil for the school record in career catches.
On the Kent State side of things, familiar faces once again lead the charge. Seniors Nate Holley, Terrence Waugh and Najee Murray all rank highly nationally in tackles, sacks and pass breakups respectively. The key for the defense will come down to the ability to create big plays as simply getting off the field, even if it is a three and out, is not enough. This Kent State offense needs all the help it can get from the defense in the form of short fields and perhaps even a defensive score.
All told, this game will come down to when Ohio has the football. Can Kent State keep the score low enough for their offense to keep pace, or will Ohio find a consistent passing game to take over?
The answer to these questions can be found Saturday at 1p.m. in Dix Stadium. If you want to watch from home, log into ESPN3 and enjoy.