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Kent State Preview: Hapless Golden Flashes Look to Regain Spark

The Golden Flashes went 2-9 (1-6 MAC) last season after a season where seemingly everything went wrong for them, from Coach Haynes being hospitalized to the death of their starting center Jason Bitsko in fall camps, to a plethora of injuries on the offensive side of the ball, and even a freak blizzard cancelling a game they could have potentially won.

Kent State’s 2015 campaign will once again be daunting, although they’re probably thankful they don’t have to face Ohio State again (where Kent suffered a 66-0 loss in 2014.) Two B1G opponents and a G5 powerhouse await the Golden Flashes this season in the non-conference slate.

(Asterisks denote conference games, while pound signs denote regional or national broadcasts.)

Sept. 4th at Illinois Illini#
Sept. 12th vs. Delaware State Hornets (FCS) #
Sept. 19th at Minnesota Golden Gophers#
Sept. 26th vs. Marshall Thundering Herd
Oct. 3rd vs. Miami Redhawks*
Oct. 10th at Toledo Rockets*
Oct. 17th at Massachusetts Minutemen*
Oct. 24th vs. Bowling Green Falcons*
Nov. 5th vs. Buffalo Bulls*#
Nov. 10th at Ohio Bobcats*#
Nov. 18th vs. Central Michigan Chippewas*#
Nov. 27th at Akron Zips*

 

Offensive preview

If there was one word to describe Kent’s offense last year, it would be one-dimensional. If there were two, they would be one-dimensional and ailing. The Golden Flashes finished 116th in the nation with 315.5 yards per game, scoring only 16.4 points per game (122nd in the nation,) easily registering as one of the worst overall offensive attacks in the nation.

Junior Colin Reardon, a dual-threat quarterback, projects to be the starter after a 2014 campaign that depended on his arm and ability to go outside the pocket a good amount of the time. Reardon’s numbers were only okay (2,466 yards, 14 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 57 percent completion rate), while sophomore Nathan Strock wasn’t much better in relief, completing only 40 percent of his passes with 104 yards in seven games played. In Kent State’s pass-happy offense last season, this spelled disaster, as the passing offense averaged only 5.81 yards per attempt and 216.3 yards per game (116th and 61st in the nation, respectively.)

The offense was pass-happy by necessity; Dri Archer had departed for the NFL last season, while 6’1″, 248 lb. power senior Trayion Durham (1,316 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2012) missed all of last season after complications from surgery from a foot injury, forcing sophomore Nick Holley (715 total yards, four touchdowns in 2014) into action. Holley and sophomore Miles Hibbler (12 rushes, 37 yards in 2014) will likely back up Durham. Every available body will be needed, as this rushing offense was ranked 125th in the nation with a sickly 81.5 yards per game.

The receivers will miss the production of Kris Singleton (51 rec., 635 yards, five touchdowns in 2014), and will be forced to rely on role players. Nick Holley (27 rec., 199 yards, one touchdown) could see action out of the backfield, while the small yet quick junior Ernest Calhoun (33 rec., 319 yards, one touchdown) could emerge as an all-around playmaker. Sophomore Kris White (25 rec., 270 yards, 10.8 yards per catch) and junior James Brooks (16 rec., 283 yards, 17.7 yards per catch, one touchdown) appear to be the deep threats on the roster for the upcoming season. 2014’s leading receiver in all major categories Casey Pearce (60 rec., 641 yards, six touchdowns) will have to be replaced at tight end after pursuing his NFL dreams.

Brock Maccauley made the transition from tight end to right tackle last season, and was serviceable, starting six of eleven games last season. Left tackle Reno Reda started all 11 games last season and stands a formidable 6″6″, 292 lbs. Junior Alex Nielson played all 11 games at center last season, but could also play guard, and stands at 6’4″, 294 lbs.

Sophomore Nathan Puthoff played in seven games as a true freshman, starting five of those, and looks to fight for the center or guard spot. Junior Wayne Scott looks to occupy a guard spot, and will see competition from junior Tad France and senior Anthony Pruitt. A year of baptism by fire should help the line communicate a lot better, as many of the current linemen have appearances and starts due to injured starters.

Defensive preview

The Kent State defense runs on instinct and athleticism, and it is a look that works for them, as they return a lot of their individual talent that contributed to a defense that was ranked 88th in the nation (430.3 yards allowed per game).

Richard Gray (29 tackles, 2 tackles for loss in 2014) has graduated, but the core of the defensive line returns intact, with senior Nate Terhune (35 tackles, three sacks, one fumble recovery) highlighting the position group. The senior was named one of Bruce Feldman’s Top Freaks in College Football in 2014, and is a popular pick to be a preseason All-MAC selection. Fellow “Top College Freak” Jon Cunningham (35 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery as a true freshman last season) mans the nose tackle position for the Golden Flashes.

Junior Jontey Byrd (27 tackles and one sack) also contributed to the line’s success at tackle last season, while junior Chris Fairchild (22 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2013) returns form an academic redshirt. Junior end Terence Waugh recorded 35 tackles and 1.5 sacks in nine games (two starts) and should take one of the end positions.

Senior end Clay Miller (15 tackles in 11 games), sophomore Matt Summers (17 tackles, one forced fumble) and transfer sophomore Anthony Johnson (three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, nine tackles for loss in nine games at Pasadena City College) will look for reps at the end.

The linebackers all return from last season with senior Matt Dellinger (89 tackles, one interception, three tackles for loss in 2014) highlighting the group. Junior Elcee Refugee returns to the STAR linebacker spot, where he recorded 58 tackles, six tackles for loss, and one forced fumble last season. Seniors Darius Redmond (37 tackles, two tackles for loss), DeVante’ Strickland (53 tackles in 2013), and sophomores Marques Moore (31 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery), and James Alexander (four tackles) will provide depth at strong and weakside linebacker.

One of a few bright spots for the Golden Flashes last season was the secondary, which returns three of four starters form last year. That bodes as good news for Kent State, who ranked 45th in the nation in pass defense last season. Sophomore Demetrius Monday (40 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception) will most likely be running partners with Division III transfer Najee Murray, who had 23 tackles [16 solo], three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries in 2014 with Kent State. Redshirt freshman Quan Robinson Jr. made a lot of noise in spring camps, while sophomore Marcus Elliot and senior Nelson Anu could see some time in certain sets. Nate Holley, brother of running back Nick Holley, mans center field for the Flashes after a season that saw him average an astounding 12.36 tackles per game (136 tackles overall). Jordan Italiano (96 tackles, three interceptions) is considered one of the smartest players in college football and mans the strong safety soft with authority. Junior Nick Cuthbert (36 tackles, one fumble recovery), true freshman Juantez McRae and sophomore Kevin Bourne (11 appearances) could see time in relief of Italiano and Holley.

Special team preview

Senior Anthony Melchiori  handles placekicking, kickoffs, and punting duties for the Flashes, and was one of the most consistent players on the roster last season, averaging 44.3 yards per punt. However, Melchiori had difficulties at kicking field goals, going 10-18 on the season. Don’t expect graduate April Goss, junior Brad Miller or freshman Shane Hynes to take over any of those kicking duties. (Fun fact: Goss, who scored a game-winning field goal and PAT in the spring game this year. is the only woman on a Division I-A roster.) Ernest Calhoun (33 returns, 708 yards) will return kicks and punts.

Overview

The Golden Flashes are trying to get a spark back into their program, and they can build off of the momentum of their win the Wagon Wheel Rivalry where they stopped geographical rival Akron from reaching a bowl game. However, it’s going to be a difficult journey to get to the top of the MAC East, even despite the softness of the division. Kent State will have to depend on Trayion Durham, Colin Rardon, and Ernest Calhoun for the vast majority of their offense, while relying on a strong secondary and experienced linebacking corps to lead the defense to improvement. Although Kent might not make a run at the division, it is perfectly reasonable to assume they will improve on their 2-9 record.

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