After the highs of the 2012 season, the Kent state Golden Flashes were brought back to earth with a bump in 2013. Coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, and injuries and graduation took their toll on the roster as the Flashes limped to a 4-8 record. Part of the success of 2012 was a strong nonconference campaign, finishing 3-1 and beating a ranked Rutgers team along the way.
This past season, against an admittedly tougher slate, the Flashes finished just 1-3, with their only win over FCS squad Liberty. This year, a positive out-of-conference record could make the difference between going bowling, or staying home and, well, going bowling. So without further ado, let's have a look at who the Flashes have in their OOC schedule in 2014, and more importantly, how do they match up?
Vs. South Alabama, September 6th
Don't let the fact that the Jaguars only played their first ever game in 2009 fool you, coach Joey Jones has crafted a hard-nosed, defense-first, team that was competitive in its first season in the Sun Belt, finishing 6-6 and, oh yeah, beating the Flashes 38-21.
This season, that defense has taken some hits to the front six. While there are some good players that are ready to step in and start, depth is a concern, and that nickel defense of the Jags could be in for a heavy dose of Trayion Durham and Co. in the running attack. That is assuming, the Flashes can find some interior linemen. The Jags secondary is in better shape, which will make life difficult for Colin Reardon, as will a pass rush boosted by JUCO Jimmie Gipson III.
USA will be breaking in a new quarterback in Brandon Bridge, who looks to be a better runner than passer at this stage. Even though Bridge will still be developing as a passer, he has an outstanding bunch of receivers to throw to, led by Shavarez Smith and tight end Wes Saxton. Throw in Alabama-transfer Marvin Shinn, and the Flashes could have their hands full with the passing attack. This could be a major issue, as the Jaguars should have a strong running attack too, led by Bridge and Jay Jones, plus an offensive line that returns three starters. Kent State's defense had a lot of problems last season, and run defense was the biggest of them. Life after Roosevelt Nix may not be kind to them.
This doesn't paint a pretty picture for the Flashes chances in their opening non-conference game (they play Ohio the previous week), but I think they have a chance. However, like 2012, they'll need all the bounces to go in their favor.
@ Ohio State, September 13th
Despite being in-state neighbours, the Flashes have only played Ohio State twice before, losing by a combined score of 99-20. Will it be any different this time?
The Buckeyes are loaded on offense, with Heisman candidate Braxton Miller leading the way. Miller still has a ways to go as a passer, but the Buckeyes could knock off KSU without him throwing a pass. Helping him out on the ground will be Ezekiel Elliott and a whole host of talented rushers. OSU's receiving corps is just as good, with Devin Smith and Evan Spencer providing a couple of big targets for Miller. The Flashes need to take advantage of any turnovers they can muster.
If Ohio State has a weakness, it's the secondary, which struggled at times last season. The Flashes have up-and-coming Reardon (or Mark Stock) and a couple of good receivers, so they may be able to make some headway through the air, but they have to fend off an outstanding defensive line that will likely beat the Flashes front to a pulp. The running game probably won't be a factor in this game.
There's no reason to expect this to be a contest for more than the opening quarter, but the Golden Flashes can build up some confidence if they can come up with a performance against Ohio State similar to Buffalo's (40-20 loss) last season.
@ Virginia, September 27th
In a first-time meeting between these teams, the Cavaliers may play in the ACC, but they went just 2-10 last season, and Kent State have a chance at an upset.
Another matchup problem for the Flashes, as the strength of the UV offense is at running back. Kevin Parks was their first 1,000-yard rusher in a decade, and he'll get the lion's share of the carries against Kent State's iffy run defense. He can expect a lot of carries too, as quarterback is a question mark for the Cavaliers. Greyson Lambert should be improved from last season, and has the kind of arm that could threaten the Kent State secondary. His top returning receivers are Parks and tight end Jake McGee, but no receiver flashed the ability to stretch the field last season. The offensive line needs to do better.
The Virginia defense is pretty tough, although it lacks great speed, but that won't be an issue against Kent State. They have a bunch of starters returning, including leading sacker Eli Harold. Add a couple of decent recruits, and the Kent State front five will have their hands full. There may be some room to maneuver in the running attack, something Virginia had issues with last year. The strength of the Cav defense was the aggressive secondary, which gave up some big plays, but made a lot more. Reardon will have to be very careful where he places the ball.
As stated, Kent State has a shot in this one, although it may be slim. If the Cavs passing game is still an issue, it will be key for the Flashes to focus on the run and keep Virginia in passing situations. This game could be close.
Vs. Army, October 18th
The Black Knights hold a 1-2 edge in the series, but Kent State won the last game 31-17 in their magic 2012 season. This could be the Golden Flashes best chance for a non-conference win.
In case you didn't know this, Army like to run the ball, and they are very good at it, with running backs Terry Baggett and Larry Dixon leading the way. It might also have come to your attention that the Flashes don't defend the run very well, and that is normally a recipe for disaster. However, the Cadets need to replace three starters on the offensive line, although that rarely seems to be a concern for any of the academies. A bigger issue may be at quarterback, where Angel Santiago (assuming he's the starter) is a decent runner, but isn't much of a threat as a passer. He doesn't tend to make a lot of mistakes though.
It's on offense where the Flashes need to make the most of their opportunities. Their offensive line outweighs that of the Black Knights considerably, and Durham is as big as any Army defender. The Black Knight run defense was worse than Kent State's last season, so Durham will have to make the most of his carries to keep the chains moving. It may be a case of opponents not needing to pass, but the Army secondary was great last season. Reardon will have to be accurate with his passes to keep the Black Knights from stacking the box.
It will be tough, but the Flashes have enough on board to take out Army, whose biggest positive may be new coach Jeff Monken. He doesn't quite have the pieces he wants in place yet, but he'll have Army fighting from the first snap.