The two leaders in the Mid-American Conference East Division will square off in a crucial conference battle at Doyt Perry Stadium this weekend, when the No. 25 Kent State Golden Flashes collide with the Bowling Green Falcons.
After winning its eighth straight game with a 48-32 victory over Miami-Ohio last weekend, Kent State made its first appearance in the top 25 since 1973. At 9-1 Kent State has been one of the best non-BCS conference squads in the country and joins Toledo and Ohio as teams from the MAC to have gotten into the national rankings this season. Even with the national ranking Kent State players are well aware the season is far from over.
"I'm not satisfied. I don't think the team is satisfied just being ranked in the Top 25," offensive lineman Josh Kline said, "We still have a goal out there to win the MAC. So that's all we're worried about this week."
Defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix put it even more bluntly.
"We still got two MAC games left. So I mean (the ranking's) great but we still got to be the best in the MAC," Nix said.
Although it is not in the nationally rankings, Bowling Green has enjoyed a rather successful season. The Falcons are 7-3 overall after a 26-14 win over Ohio on the road last weekend. That victory was the sixth straight victory for Bowling Green which is bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. At 5-1 in conference play the Falcons are a game behind 6-0 Kent State in the MAC East.
If past history is any indication, Bowling Green should feel good. In 79 previous meetings, Bowling Green has dominated with a 55-18-6 record all-time against Kent State. Bowling Green did lose the last time the teams matched up at Doyt Perry Stadium. A loss this weekend by Bowling Green would mean the Falcons had lost consecutive games in the series for the first time since the 1940s.
Offensive success has keyed Kent State's rise this season. Even though the Golden Flashes are a middle of the road squad in terms of total offense in comparison to the rest of the MAC (402.4 ypg, seventh) the Golden Flashes have been one of the best teams in terms of scoring, posting 35.4 points per game, which is second in the conference.
Kent State relies on a run-first offense that has picked up 2,357 yards on the ground to just 1,667 through the air. Not many teams in the country can boast a 1,000-yard rusher this season, but Kent State has been blessed with a pair of such backs. Trayion Durham is the leader with 1,059 yards and 13 touchdowns on 210 carries. However Dri Archer has been the more exciting option as he has averaged 9.7 yards per carry en route to 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns. The pair have combined for more than 200 yards rushing six times this season including each of the last three contests. Last weekend against Miami-Ohio, the two combined for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
"(Durham and Archer) are two spectacular players," head coach Darrell Hazell said. "The thing that I like about them is they get better each week. They come to work with a purpose and they give you a little bit of something different a change of pace and power."
With the Golden Flashes running with so much success quarterback Keith Spencer has just had to manage the game. He has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,413 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He has thrown for more than 200 yards only twice this season.
Luke Patton has been a tackling machine for the Golden Flashes racking up 99 stops this season. Batton has also contributed beyond his tackling prowess with a pair of interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Luke Wollet and Mark Fackler have also helped Kent State accumulate the most turnovers in the conference (30) with three interceptions a piece. Jake Dooley is the lead pass rusher with 5.5 sacks, while Roosevelt Nix (12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) has also been a problem for opposing offensive lines to handle.
Offense has not been a big part of Bowling Green's success this season. The Falcons are the third worst team in the conference in terms of yards gained (373.9 ypg), while scoring nearly 24 points per game. Bowling Green's offense has struggled to convert in the red zone with a conference worst 64.9 percent rate of success from within 20 yards of the end zone.
Running back Anthon Samuel has been the most consistent offensive weapon for the Falcons. Samuel has rushed for 906 yards and 10 touchdowns and is one of eight rushers in the MAC to average more than 100 yards rushing per game (100.7 ypg). Samuel illustrated his ability to carry the offensive load last week against Ohio when he rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on a day when the Falcons had only 288 total yards.
At the quarterback position is Matt Schilz, who has thrown for 1,843 yards and 10 touchdowns, while completing 56.6 percent of his pass attempts. His 114.4 passer efficiency rating is the third worst in the MAC.
Schilz's primary targets have been Chris Gallon, Shaun Joplin and Ryan Burbrink. Gallon and Burbink are tied for a team-high with 32 receptions, but Gallon has been more productive in picking up yards with 369 and four touchdown receptions. Joplin has just one fewer reception than the two and has been a bigger threat with a team-leading 478 yards.
Bowling Green has been the superior defensive squad in the conference by far this season, surrendering 285.4 yards and 15.1 points per game. Both of those marks are the best in the MAC with the Falcons' efforts in total defense 90 yards fewer than the next best team.
Chris Jones has terrorized opposing backfields to lead the Falcons with 11.5 sacks and 17.0 tackles for loss. Those are both the best marks in the conference and rank third nationally. Gabe Martin is the lead tackler with 60 on the season, including 4.5 sacks.