Winning is the medicine to cure a host of ills that any team may experience. Kent State’s football team believes that cure will go a long way to erasing the memory that accompanied a pair of painful losses to the University of Akron in 2007 and 2008 when the Golden Flashes travel to Akron for a Saturday afternoon battle with the Zips at InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field.
Kent State (5-4 overall) is currently riding a three-game winning streak and enters this weekend’s tussle tied for second with a 4-1 mark in the Mid-American Conference East Division. Akron, who has struggled to a 1-7 season mark, is 0-4 in the conference and currently at the bottom of the MAC East.
“This is obviously going to be a big football game,” said Kent State head coach Doug Martin. “Akron is a good football team. Regardless of the records, they have good athletes on both sides of the ball. They are playing better each week. Offensively, they have more than capable players there to explode on someone at any time. Defensively, they are one of the better teams in the conference. It will take everything that we’ve got to squeak this one out too, but we’re looking forward to it. I can’t wait for Saturday to get here.”
The Flashes resurgence has been fueled by a trio of true freshmen who have made the most of their opportunities in their first season with KSU. Quarterback Spencer Keith matriculated to the KSU campus after a stellar career at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. Keith led the Bruins to a 5A state title with a 13-1 record as a senior when he established state single season records for passing yards (5,310), attempts (626) and completions (396). In addition, he was selected as Arkansas’ Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year and was named the Most Valuable Player in the state championship game. This season, he has started five games and currently leads KSU in passing attempts (204), completions (120), passing yards (1,538), touchdown passes (11) and completion percentage (58.8%). He currently ranks sixth in the conference in passing efficiency (132.1) and is seventh in passing yards per game (192.2) and total offense (201.9 ypg).
Wide receiver Tyshon Goode has been the go-to-guy for Keith, and given Kent State’s offense, a deep threat. Goode leads the Flashes with 40 receptions for 553 yards and five touchdowns. Last week versus Western Michigan, he snared 11 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
Placekicker Freddy Cortez has stepped in and solved a area that has been a problem for the Golden Flashes for the past few seasons. Cortez has connected on seven of eight field goals against conference opponents including a season-best 42-yarder versus Miami. He was rewarded for his three field goal, two extra point performance against the Redhawks when he was selected as the MAC East Specialist of the Week and received College Football Performance Awards Placekicker of the Week honorable mention honors.
In addition, sophomore running back Jacquise Terry has taken over the starter's role after senior Eugene Jarvis suffered a season-ending injury in week two versus Boston College. Terry leads the Golden Flashes with 572 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. He is also tops on the squad in all-purpose yards with 752. Terry has exceeded the 100-yard rushing mark in three of his six games this season with a season-best 110 yards on 31 carries against Ohio.
“Kent hasn't changed much since losing Eugene Jarvis, they still have good play action passes and receivers to go along with their running game,” said Akron head coach J. D. Brookhart. “Their quarterback (Spencer Keith) can throw the ball well, obviously after throwing for 373 yard last week. Keith is not as elusive as Julian Edelman was last year, but he can move.”
Akron’s slide to the bottom of the MAC East began early in the season when senior quarterback Chris Jacquemain was kicked out of school and veterans Deryn Bowser and Aaron Williams suffered season-ending injuries. In addition, assistant coach Reno Ferri resigned in early October.
Despite those setbacks, the Zips would enjoy nothing more than spoiling Kent State’s aspirations for a conference championship by defeating the Flashes and retaining the Wagon Wheel trophy that is given annually to the winner of the Kent State-Akron game.
KSU last won the Wagon Wheel in 2006 with a 37-15 win at Dix Stadium. Akron took possession of the Wheel with a 27-20 victory in 2007 and retained it with a 30-27 triumph in double overtime in 2008. In 2007, Kent State led 17-10 entering the fourth quarter. Akron outscored the Flashes 17-3 in the final stanza for the Zips ninth victory in the past 11 meetings with KSU. Last season, the Golden Flashes led 21-10 at halftime. Akron scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half to take a 24-21 lead. Kent State connected on a 32-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to tie the score and send the game into overtime. Following an exchange of field goals in the first overtime, KSU missed a 23-yarder to give the Zips the victory in the second extra period.
In order to secure an upset, Akron will have to reverse a trend over the past four games in which the Zips have been outscored 44-10 in the fourth quarter.
Kent State’s defense, which has been a key component to the Golden Flashes’ success, looks to continue Akron’s offensive struggles throughout the entire game. In KSU’s 20-11 win over Ohio University earlier this season, the Flashes set a school record by totally shutting down the Bobcats’ running game and holding OU to a microscopic -9 yards rushing. Kent State also registered seven sacks and 15 tackles for a loss against the Bobcats. Last week, Kent State defeated Western Michigan 26-14 and held the Broncos to a total of 38 yards rushing. As a team for the season, the Flashes have 30 sacks totaling a loss of 183 yards.
Leading the way for KSU’s defense is junior middle linebacker Cobrani Mixon. Mixon leads the team with 89 tackles, including 48 solos. He also ranks third on the Flashes with nine tackles for a loss. Classmate Monte Simmons, an end, has a team-leading seven-and-a-half sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. The former total also ranks second and the latter stands third in the MAC individual rankings. In addition, junior free safety Brian Lainhart, who leads the MAC in interceptions (five), now has 11 interceptions in the last 16 games. His 13 career interceptions are tied for third on the Flashes’ all-time list. He also ranks third in the conference in fumbles forced with four.
As has been the case in each of the past two meetings between the in-state rivals, special teams could figure prominently in the outcome. In addition to Cortez’s exploits, sophomore punter Matt Rhinehart currently ranks second in the MAC with an average of 41.1 yards per kick. Last week versus WMU, he booted the second-longest punt in school history with an 80-yard blast. As a team, the Golden Flashes’ kickoff coverage squad leads the nation, allowing just 14.68 yards per return.
Goode, Simmons and Rhinehart were honored for their performances versus the Broncos when they were accorded honorable mention status by the CFPA. Simmons was also named the MAC Defensive Player of the Week when he registered three sacks and five solo tackles against WMU.
“I don’t know if we’re great in one area, but we’re really good all together,” said Martin. “Our players are really together right now. They have a great belief in each other. They know they’re a good football team and it’s showing up each Saturday. We’ve got something special going right now.”