The Golden Flashes are set to take on the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon in a game that Vegas has already predicted would be a slaughter; the opening line is +43 for Kent.
That being said, you never know what’s going to happen until the game is actually played on the gridiron. We got hold of Erik Evans, the site manager of Roll Bama Roll, and asked him his thoughts on the Tide, the Flashes and how an ESS EE SEE Man sees the MAC.
Hustle Belt: Did you know Nick Saban and Urban Meyer almost ended up on the same staff in Toledo?
Erik Evans: I think most Alabama fans are aware of the Toledo/Saban/Meyer connection. In Monty Burke's recent book "Saban: The making of a coach," the story is set out in excellent detail. Meyer, a LB coach at Illinois State, called Saban's house to inquire about a job and spoke with the real lord o' the keep, Ms. Terry. It was Ms. Terry who told Nick that there was something about this guy. Saban, to his detriment, never returned the cold call though. In a way, that's good, because the last thing college football needs is an Urban Meyer who also knows The Process (tm.)
HB: On paper, Alabama is obviously the superior team by a good country mile, possibly two. But as with everything in nature, nothing is perfect. Where is Alabama the weakest? Can Kent State exploit that?
EE: Alabama's biggest weaknesses to-date have not really been in scheme or personnel, so much as they have been in mental errors/execution and simple depth. During the offseason, many writers (and eventually Saban) lamented the depth on defense in particular, an issue that got worse with the defensive back diaspora over the summer. That concern came to fruition this past Saturday against Ole Miss. The Rebels went tempo most of the game, and, while nursing an 18-point late lead, the Tide defense had to clear the bench, allowing the Rebels back in the game.
With respect to execution, that has been most apparent on the offensive line. Losing all-everything center Ryan Kelly to the Indianapolis Colts certainly affected the offensive line cohesion, but much more than personnel were the glaring errors: holding penalties, pre-snap and procedural penalties, missed blocking assignments. The interior, until last week at any rate, has been most suspect on the line. A more veteran group executed their run assignments a little better on Saturday but the penalties were still there and pass block whiffs began to emerge. Coaches Key and Cristobal have to sort this out, and veteran players have to do better (the most likely starting grouping goes, L-to-R: Jr., two-year starting So., Sr., Sr., Fr.)
HB: Which Kent State players concern you the most when you look at the roster?
The Kent State receivers are speedy little guys, with the primary exception of tight end Brice Fackler. He's not the primary receiver, but at 6'4" (and with two TDs on just five receptions) he's obviously a load in the red zone. Anyone who saw Alabama make gaffe after gaffe against Ole Miss' Evan Engram last week, realizes that defending the middle could be a problem against Fackler. Justin Rankin is a nice back, averaging nearly 5 yards a clip, but more problematic is potentially QB Mylik Mitchell. He hasn't great success on the ground, but leveraging that mobility may open up some RPO for the Flashes.
Defense hasn't been Kent State's issue. They are fundamentally sound, and have a high-risk-high-reward coordinator in Ben Needham. Given Alabama's execution errors along the offensive line, a pass rush specialist like Terence Waugh could flummox the blocking scheme and get to Jalen Hurts. Kalil Morris and Chris Fairchild on the inside also have the potential to bottle up the interior rushing game of Alabama. You have to think the undersized, but excellent, Najee Murray will be on Calvin Ridley. With ArDarius Stewart sitting this one out, the Flashes have a definite experience advantage in the secondary.
HB: Which Bama players do you expect to have big days?
I think that the Tide defensive line will have an exceptional day. The Kent State offensive line has been pedestrian so far, and this is the best group of run-stuffers and pass rushers the Flashes will see all season. On offense, I think the Tide are going to pass just enough to get the wrinkles out with Blake Barnett getting plenty of snaps, so secondary receivers will likely see many targets. But, overall, the offensive line and the running game (including Jalen Hurts' legs) are going to shorten this game and get back to basics.
HB: How do y'all like Gehrig Dieter so far? (You can thank us later.)
EE: Gehrig Dieter competed with ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster for a spot outside before taking over the slot. He is surprisingly physical and has great speed. He's had a few issues with drops, however, and that has impacted his targets. Like grad transfer Richard Mullaney before him, it takes a little while tol finding his niche in the offense, particularly with the QB situation just now being resolved. I think he'll have a much more productive latter part of the season.
HB: Give me an outsider's view of Kent State as a football program and the MAC as a whole. Are they little brothers or are they blossoming into their own?
EE: The MAC seems to be is at its best when the older programs (or more high profile ones) are taking center stage: your Miamis, Toledos, Bowling Greens, Western Michigans, for instance. As you can imagine, MAC coverage is sparse down here unless you're looking for it on the Ocho or watching Ohio State's out of conference schedule (shade.) But, I think most knowledgeable fans recognize the tradition and age of those programs, the players they've churned out, and, of course, the coaches that have emerged from the MAC (am I legally obligated to say, "Miami - the cradle of coaches?") In many respects the MAC is the template for the Sun Belt Conference: A regional group of schools overshadowed by national powers, yet that still have athletes, can still compete at the upper tiers, and that serve as proving grounds for the next batch of P5 coaches.
As far as Kent State, I think I share the normative view: No matter what product is put on the field, this fan base and the city of Tuscaloosa will forever be grateful to the Flashes for their help in cleanup following the tornado of April 2011. The players and coaches paid their own way, came to our city to lend a hand when they could have been doing conditioning or going over their playbooks. Tuscaloosa in the summer is not pleasant. Tuscaloosa in a de facto war zone was less so. That was a supremely classy move, one that has not, and likely will not, be forgotten. Also, there's some Saban guy that went to school there or something.
HB: What does Kent State have to do in order to pull off the miracle?
EE: I'm not being flippant when I say "make it weird." Since Nov. 5, 2011, Alabama has been beaten the following ways: Manziel going berserk and having a Heisman moment, Alabama forgetting to run the ball against OSU, the turnover festivals against Ole Miss, an Oklahoma game that a dejected Alabama team had no interest in playing in the Sugar Bowl, and Kick Six. That's it. You could say, fairly, that Alabama has only had 2-3 games in 5 years where they've just been plain beaten on the field. To make it weird, you have to force turnovers, capitalize on Alabama mistakes -- every single one of them, as OSU, Oklahoma and Ole Miss did. You have to win the special teams game. Bottle up the run and pressure Hurts to win with just his arm. And, above all, you have to beat Alabama vertically. Even more so than making things weird, is the consistent ability to execute vertical passing against the Tide that has featured in every single loss since at least 2010. Can the Kent State offensive line hold? Can Mylik Mitchell make those throws? Can the Flashes' WRs get behind the secondary? That's the formula.
HB: What are your honest expectations for the game? Don't spare me.
EE: This is no disrespect to Kent State, but Alabama is simply out of their league at every position on the field, on the sideline and in the booth. The Tide have won three games very sloppily, and the heart of the SEC schedule is coming up after this one. With personnel finally decided, it's time for Alabama to clean up their game, execute mentally and physically, and get serious on every snap. I think Kent State sees that kind of Alabama team, and there's not really a hangover following the Ole Miss victory. The running game is crisp, and four guys get into the rotation. Hurts will be given some shots, but most of the passing will be done by Barnett, as Kiffin tries to get him snaps and into rhythm. The secondary, who were flat embarrassed last week, go back to playing fundamental ball. The defensive line tees off on the Flashes' moribund offense. I don't think that Kent State scores a TD, but I don't think Coach Saban runs it up on his alma mater either. Let's call it a more-humane-than-it-looks 41-3 game.
Thanks to Erik for taking the time out of his busy day to help lend knowledge on the Crimson Tide. You can follow Roll Bama Roll on Twitter @RollBamaRoll for all your Bama needs and you can also follow Erik Evans on Twitter @gothlaw for all the music #HOTTAEKS your heart desires.