2012 was a dream season for Kent State. The Golden Flashes went undefeated in MAC play, competed in their first conference championship game, ended the second longest bowl drought in the NCAA, and won a school record 11 games. Not only that but the Flashes had the 7th largest increase in attendance in all of college football, with an average of over 6,000 more people in the stands per game. Darrell Hazell had orchestrated quite possibly the greatest turn around of any program in college football history.
2013 welcomed in new coach Paul Haynes and there was plenty to be optimistic about. Many of the key components on last years MAC East championship team were coming back and it seemed as if the Flashes would be poised to make another run at the MAC East title. Losing Coach Hazell, Luke Batton, Spencer Kieth, and Brian Winters hurt, but with Dri Archer and Trayion Durham returning in the backfield, and Roosevelt Nix, Darius Polk, and Luke Wollet returning on the defensive side of the ball, the Flashes looked ready to make another run to Detroit.
The first area of concern when looking at the Flashes schedule was the difficulty early on. Five of the first seven games for the Flashes were against two power conference teams and the three best teams in the conference in Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Ball State. It seemed apparent that the Bowling Green game in week two could end up being the most important game of the season not only for the MAC title run, but also with Penn State and LSU looming, the Flashes could ill afford to start 1-3.
Kent State opened up the season vs Liberty and it was ugly. The Flashes trailed going into the 4th quarter and it appeared that they could fall victim to an FCS opponent, but Colin Reardon hit Chris Humphrey in the endzone with under 5 minutes to go to take a 17-10 lead which they would hold. The big story line of the game however, and one that would continue to haunt the team for the rest of the year was Dri Archer going down on the very first drive with a leg injury.
Bowling Green was next and it was a crucial early season matchup for the Flashes. Down two going into the half, the crowd of almost 23,000 at Dix Stadium and a student record for attendance was ready for the Flashes to do what they did all last year and find away to win. Unfortunately the defense was nowhere to be found after halftime. KSU's offense was less than inspiring but its almost impossible to win any football game when you give up close to 600 yards. Bowling Green would win by 19.
The next two games for Kent State were against LSU and Penn State and they were not pretty. LSU came out full throttle and put up 21 on the wounded Flashes defense in the first quarter. Penn State on the other hand never put up more than one score in any quarter except the fourth but the Flashes offense just could not get rolling. Through four games it was very apparent that a very soft Flashes defense would not get this team back to the post season after it gave up a combined 1,610 yards against Bowling Green, LSU, and Penn State.
A winless Western Michigan team was up next and that was when (or so it appeared) that the Flashes might have found their mojo again. Durham and Archer tore it up on the ground just like old times going for a combined 276 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Kent State would win 32-14.
The next two games were big MAC contests against Northern Illinois and Ball State. Although done no scheduling favors by the conference, this was where Kent State needed to put together some wins to get back into the hunt. Jordan Lynch and Cameron Stingily torched the Flashes. Early in the third, Kent State took a three point lead to go up 24-21 but that would be the last score for the Flashes as the Huskies put up 17 straight to win it 38-24 while the Flashes troubles finishing games continued.
Ball State was not too much different. The Flashes kept it close at half like they were able to do in most games. Kent State seemed to have the 6-1 Cardinals beaten but Keith Wenning hooked up with Willie Snead on fourth down for the go ahead touchdown with less than two minutes to go. The Flashes would not answer. This game was the game that defined how this season was different than last season. Last year the Flashes pulled off one of the most unlikely and dramatic victories at home against Ball State to keep their dream season alive. This year there was no magic as the Flashes continually could not get it done when the game was on the line.
South Alabama and Buffalo were the next two up for the Flashes and they were arguably the biggest two disasters of the season. With MAC East title hopes out the window, the Flashes needed these two games to keep their bowl hopes alive. In both contests, an unmotivated and underprepared Kent State team could not keep the game within one score at halftime. In neither game did they answer in the second half. Both games were woefully difficult to watch as well. The Flashes were a dreadful 3-12 on third downs against South Alabama. Against Buffalo, Khalil Mack had a huge interception on a promising Flashes drive with less than forty seconds left in the half that ended in a Brandon Oliver touchdown and ultimately ended any chances of a comeback.
The Flashes, out of bowl contention at this point, would have loved to at least savor the Wagon Wheel but unfortunately it was not to be. The Flashes put up a better-than-average 300 yards offense against Akron's 304 yards of offense. However, 5 turnovers doomed Kent State including fumbles from Archer and Durham and three interceptions from Colin Reardon. The Zips would win 16-7 and take back the Wagon Wheel.
The highlight of the season for Kent State was the last two games against Miami and bowl bound Ohio University. The Flashes notched back to back victories in convincing fashion, both on national television. Durham and Archer pounded the Redhawks on the ground as the Flashes racked up 447 yards of offense and held Miami under 200. The way the Flashes played in the last game of the year against Ohio was the team most Flashes fans thought they were going to see on a consistent basis this year. Dri Archer exploded for huge numbers and Nate Terhune pulled off one of the nastiest fake punts in MAC history. Kent State will look to build on both games, and take this two game winning streak into next season.
Kent State's 2013 football campaign was undoubtedly disappointing as the Flashes had the worst turnaround from 2012 to 2013 of any FBS team in the nation. A couple key components will be lost including Dri Archer, Luke Wollet, Roosevelt Nix, and Darius Polk. Paul Haynes will try to continue some of the late season successes seen in Trayion Durham and Colin Reardon. The Flashes will also work on filling in some of the major losses this offseason on the defensive side of the ball. Hopefully under Paul Haynes, a model of consistency can be built at Kent State where the Flashes are in contention to compete for a bowl bid every year, much like what is being done under Frank Solich at Ohio and Matt Campbell at Toledo. I'm sure every Kent State reader wants to fire up the busses and head back to Detroit in 2014 as much as I do.