The start of the 2018 season could not have been more brutal for the Kent State Golden Flashes (1-5, 0-2 MAC). They started with three of their first four games on the road against Power 5 teams (all losses with blowouts against Penn State and Ole Miss) and their first two MAC games were against a healthy and talented Ball State team (a 52-24 loss) and always-sound Ohio (a 27-26 loss at home). They now face the Miami RedHawks (2-4, 2-1 MAC) on the road Saturday, who have been playing much better football since getting into league play as they’ve scored 118 points in the last three games, the most they’ve scored in a three-game span since 2005 when they scored 119 points.
For Kent State to win on Saturday, it needs to have some success on the ground with running back Justin Rankin and quarterback Woody Barrett. Rankin has averaged 5.8 yards per rush on 80 carries while Barrett has 222 rushing yards to go with 1,411 passing yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Isaiah McKoy and Mike Carrigan are the big play threats at receiver with long receptions of 75- and 49-yards respectively and five touchdowns between them, but they average less than five receptions per game.
Defense has been an adventure for the Flashes as they are next-to-last in the league with 318.8 passing yards allowed per game in addition to the second-most passing and rushing touchdowns allowed (12 and 19 respectively). However, the team is tied for the most takeaways in the MAC with 13, tied for second with 14 sacks, and stopped offenses in the red zone a league-high 11 times. Matt Bahr has been a solid play with 9.5 tackles per game (fourth in the MAC) while Jamal Parker leads the back end with two picks.
For Miami, Gus Ragland is on the cusp of some history as he needs 10 more passing yards to break 5,000 in his career and two more scores to get to 50 career touchdowns. He has no shortage of weapons to throw to with the emergence of Jack Sorenson, Dominique Robinson, and Andrew Homer (seven touchdowns between them) to go with the ground attack of a healthy Kenny Young, Alonzo Smith, and Maurice Thomas.
The defense for Miami has really picked up its game in the last three weeks as each team was held to under 3.4 yards per rush and was held to six yards or less per pass in the two wins. Brad Koenig is having a special year at linebacker with 45 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, three sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Like Kent State, Miami also has 14 sacks on the year as Doug Costin is emerging as a pass rusher with three sacks of his own.
As far as special teams go, KSU and Miami are comparable in a lot of areas except for one: punting. The punting unit for Kent State averages 32 net yards per punt (the lowest in the MAC) while Miami’s averages 38.2 net yards per punt, which can add up over the course of the game. If the game comes down to field position, the third phase heavily favors Miami.
For the game on Saturday, Kent State is going to have to throw the ball to win. Miami’s run defense in MAC play has been stellar but, as we’ve seen against Western Michigan, it had some struggles on the back end this year and KSU’s tempo can be a problem. It is important for the RedHawks to stay balanced this week. While it may be tempting to challenge the Flashes through the air, they need to keep the Flashes’ pass rushers in check and keep Ragland upright over the course of the game. Again, special teams favor the ‘Hawks so the advantage belongs to the home team in most (if not all) of the phases. 38-24 Miami on what looks to be a special day in Oxford for reasons that have nothing to do with football.