From the Bird’s Nest: Kent State–New Coach, New Attitude
This is the second of a twelve-part series previewing Louisiana opponents for the 2011 season. Today: Kent State
KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES
Location: Kent, Ohio
Home Field: Dix Stadium (20,500)
2010 Record: 5-7 (4-4 MAC)
Coach: Darrell Hazell
Record: 0-0 (First Season)
Last meeting with Louisiana: 2008 Louisiana 44, Kent State 27
If you look at the recent history of Kent State football, it will remind you somewhat of their opponent in week two, Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns.
Louisiana hasn't been to a bowl game since 1970. For the Golden Flashes, it's 1972. Championships have been hard to come by for both schools. And, this year, both have new coaches.
Darrell Hazell takes over for Doug Martin at Kent State. He was the wide receivers coach at Ohio State last year. His new staff has a lot of former Ohio State players and coaches. Hazell's biggest challenge when he arrived in Kent was to build team unity and team chemistry, something that had fallen apart under Martin.
Despite being dysfunctional, KSU finished 5-7, 4-4 in the MAC and had halftime leads in two games they lost in league play. Kent State returns most of their offense and many key players on defense. According to preseason publications, Hazell has more talent on this team than he anticipated.
On offense, KSU will run less zone-read option than they have in the past. Returning at quarterback is junior Spencer Keith, who threw for 2212 yards a year ago. He had a 59% completion rate with eight touchdowns and eleven interceptions. Keith has good size (6-3, 215). But redshirt freshman Cedric McCloud (6-2, 234) showed well in the spring and is pushing Keith for the starting job.
The Golden Flashes lost Eugene Jarvis at running back, but Kent should be solid at that position with senior Jacquise Terry returning. Terry led all KSU rushers with 542 yards and seven touchdowns last year and also caught 23 balls out of the backfield. Junior Dri Archer also saw action last season and rushed for 140 yards on 40 carries. Incoming freshman Traylon Durham (6-2, 240) is expected to challenge for playing time as well.
There's some talent at the receiver spot as well. Tyshon Goode (6-1, 182) and Sam Kirkland (6-1, 191) both started every game for Kent State a year ago and combined for 115 catches, over 1300 yards receiving and six scores. Goode was a second team all conference performer a year ago. Senior Justin Thompson returns at tight end, where he caught 14 passes last season.
Four starters return on a solid offensive line led by Chris Anzevino (6-2, 305), who has twice been on the Rimington Award watch list. He's started 36 straight games. Left tackle Brian Winters (6-5, 305) is another all-MAC pick (3rd team) returning for KSU. The offensive line is probably the strength of this offense and is rated in the top three in the MAC in the preseason.
Defensively, Kent State may have the best defensive line in the league this year. It all starts with MAC Defensive Player of the Year Roosevelt Nix (6-0, 240) who had ten sacks and twenty tackles for loss last season. And, by the way, he only started one game. He also forced four fumbles and blocked two kicks. He was the first freshman ever to win MAC defensive POY honors. Nix will have plenty of veteran support up front with two fifth-year seniors, nose guard Ishmal'ily Kitchen (6-3, 304) and defensive end Lee Stalker (6-2, 254) playing up front.
Kent State will have some questions at linebacker after losing first team all-conference middle man Cobrani Mixon along with third team selection Dorian Wood. Junior Luke Batton (6-0, 220) is the lone returning starter on the strong side. He'll be a little behind after missing the spring with an injury. The other two positions are up for grabs going into the fall.
In the secondary, Kent State returns their two corners in Norman Wolfe Jr (5-8, 163) and Josh Pleasant (5-10, 181) The two combined for seven interceptions last year. That's the good news. The bad news for Kent State is they lost both of their safeties and that position is unsettled as the fall approaches.
Placekicker Freddy Cortez returns for his third season as the starter. He has 24 career field goals and has yet to miss an extra point in his career. Punter Matt Rinehart, who averaged 42 yards per kick last season, is a two-time first-team All-MAC selection.
Outlook: This game is as much about the Cajuns as it is the opponent. While Hazell has worked hard to change attitudes at KSU, Mark Hudspeth is trying to establish a new culture at UL. This will be an opportunity to erase one of the worst statistics in recent Cajuns' history.
That's the Cajuns' road non-conference record since the Sun Belt Conference was formed in 2001. The one win was over the University of Houston in 2006. And, while the bulk of those games was against teams from AQ conferences, it also includes a three touchdown loss to a really bad Eastern Michigan team in 2005.
Kent State doesn't have anyone like Julian Edelman who now plies his trade in New England with the Patriots after quarterbacking the Golden Flashes in their 2008 trip to Cajun Field. The Cajuns will have more team speed in this game and will have some matchup advantages. But Kent State will have a decided advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. And, if that old cliche' about "games are won in the trenches" holds true, that's not a good omen for the Vermilion in game two.
If Louisiana is going to come anywhere close to some fans' high expectations for 2011, this is a game they have to win.
They won't be favored to do so.