What makes the Mid-American Conference so interesting to follow is how things can change in a matter of weeks. Take Buffalo for example, after setting an FBS record for most points in a loss with 68, Lance Leipold’s team score just one touchdown Saturday against Northern Illinois.
There’s also Central Michigan, who was coming off a major conference road win at Ohio, only to fall by 20-points during a rain-filled homecoming to Toledo.
That’s not to say that there aren’t feel happy-go-lucky stories within the conference. During Saturday’s MAC slate, one team pulled off an improbable 11-point comeback at home to snap a four-game losing streak.
With the dust finally cleared, here's what we learned following KSU's first conference win of the season over Chuck Martin's RedHawks.
Paul Haynes saved his job
A month has past since Haynes returned to the team following two weeks of medical leave for cancer treatments. The announcement, which was made before the season opener at Clemson, came as a surprising. He was present for Kent State’s 38-31 win over Howard, but in the pressbox rather than the sidelines.
Haynes is in his fifth season as head coach of the Golden Flashes, taking over for Darrell Hazell back in 2012 who left for Purdue and is now with the Minnesota Vikings coaching the wide receivers. Without a doubt, having Haynes back is sensational and great for stability within the program.
The underlining perception of Haynes’ job stability before the leave of absence, however, was weary. In the weekly Hustle Belt hot seat power rankings poll, besides Mike Jinks of Bowling Green and Terry Bowden of Akron, Haynes has routinely been placed high on the scroll.
Even if Kent State doesn’t make it to a bowl game this season, at the very least, Haynes can say that he’s coaching a team with a fighting spirit and know maybe after the Miami win that he’ll be back for another season.
Haynes has accumulated an overall record fo 14-40 over the course of five seasons, as well as 9-25 in league play.
A moment to remember for George Bollas
Allen Moff of the Record-Courier put it best Saturday when describing long-time backup quarterback George Bollas as the epitome of the Kent State program.
“The former Aurora High School star has been beaten down and beaten up, harassed and hounded, discombobulated and disrespected while working to prove he truly belongs at the major collegiate level,” he said. “But through all the difficulties Bollas has experienced during his KSU tenure, the redshirt junior has maintained a positive attitude and continued to fight.”
Bollas and freshman Dustin Crum have split time under center since starter Nick Holley went down with a season-ending knee injury against Marshall in week three. Crum played the entire first half against Miami, throwing four passes but recording 34 yards on the ground. Crum’s one completion was for seven yards.
When Bollas made his debut Saturday, with the Golden Flashes trailing 14-3, his experience and perseverance gained in the four years at KSU led to him throwing for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 9-of-14 passing.
Bollas had 135 yards in the third quarter. His first scoring pass came on the opening drive of the second half, going 71 yards before finding running back Justin Rankin from four-yards out. The next possession was comprised of just one play as Kent State scored on a 84-yard completion from Bollas to Mike Carrigan.
The last time the Golden Flashes won a game when Bollas threw a pass in it was back on Oct. 17, 2015, against UMass.
Kent State’s defense is reliable when needed
The defensive unit for KSU–on paper– is far from what the headline above says, ranked second to last in the conference in yards allowed per game and points allowed per game.
But from reading between the lines, when playing against competition that’s somewhat equal, so not Clemson or Louisville, the Golden Flashes have held their own.
The 14 points given up to Miami was the lowest total in a single game by KSU this year since the 21-0 loss to the Thundering Herd. Besides the two touchdowns allowed in the first half, every other RedHawks drive ended in either a punt or interception.
Miami also missed a sure-fire 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have tied the score at 17. Four times Miami reached the red zone in the final quarter of the play, but failed to score once.
Kent State allowed 173 yards rushing among three running backs.
No Gus Ragland is a severe problem
Miami head coach Chuck Martin said earlier this week it’s tough to lose a quarterback at the level of Gus Ragland, who suffered lower body injury in the third quarter last Saturday against Bowling Green and is expected to miss two-to-five weeks.
In the six games started this season, the junior has thrown 1,398 passing yards for 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s never finished with a quarterback rating lower than 115.
From what Ragland has done since making his return during the middle of last season, leading the RedHawks to a bowl appearance and winning the final six games, to now shows how important Ragland has been to this offense.
Billy Bahl, who came in to finish out the Bowling Green loss, threw 29 passes and completed 12 for 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Not a bad stat line, but his game management needs improvement.
Before the missed field goal in the fourth quarter, Bahl missed two open wide receivers in the end zone that would gave Miami the go-ahead lead. His two turnovers in the first half were deep within the RedHawks territory, which set up two missed field goal tries by KSU.
Best case, Ragland could be back on the field in full health by the Ohio game on Oct. 31. Worst case, he won’t play until the Eastern Michigan at home during the second-to-last game of the season.
Time for another comeback Miami (OH)
Besides the slaughter brought on by Notre Dame in South Bend two weeks ago, the four losses by Miami have ended in a single possession, including a 21-17 score at Cincinnati and a five-point defeat in the season opener at Marshall.
All things considered, this should be a program fighting for positioning at the top of the MAC East and possibly go on to play at Ford Field for a conference championship.
Instead, Miami is two losses away from bowl ineligibility.
There was a lot of promise throughout the preseason of the RedHawks carrying the momentum from last year and finishing with their most successful campaign since 2010.
Reaching the six-win mark is still possible, even without Ragland at quarterback. It won’t happen without improving their red zone offense, as 28-points were left off the board Saturday due to poor decision making.
Buck up Miami, these next five weeks are crucial, and it starts with Buffalo at home next week.