The 23rd-ranked Kent State Golden Flashes have one final obstacle before heading to Detroit as they host the Ohio University Bobcats for both teams' Mid-American Conference regular-season finale at Dix Stadium.
The Golden Flashes had their biggest game of the season last week when they squared off with Bowling Green with first place in the league's East Division at stake. Kent State managed to top the Falcons, 31-24, for its ninth consecutive win to earn a spot in its first MAC Championship game since 1972.
Darrell Hazell was recently named one of 16 finalist for the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach of the Year Award. After the season his team has had, it would not be shocking if he was given the honor. In just his second season at the school, Kent State has already won a program record 10 games, gone 7-0 in league action to this point, and won its last nine games overall, including an upset of Rutgers for the school's first-ever triumph over a ranked opponent.
"We definitely had some doubt before this year, and that's just because of our history," said starting QB Spencer Keith. "Now every game there is never any doubt in our minds. We go into every week believing we will win."
This week the Golden Flashes will take on a very familiar opponent that they have not fared too well against in the past. KSU and Ohio will be meeting for the 65th time to renew the rivalry which began in 1936. The Bobcats hold a 39-23-2 edge in the all-time series.
The Bobcats were the first MAC team to crack the top 25 earlier this season after their 7-0 start which included road wins at Penn State and Marshall. Frank Solich's squad has taken a tumble down the standings after losing three of its last four. Ohio suffered its second-straight defeat by a double-digit margin when it fell, 52-27, at Ball State last Wednesday. Despite its recent struggles, Ohio still can not be taken lightly with Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship starring in its offense.
Although it is coming off a loss, Ohio was once again productive on offense with 484 yards and 20 first downs. The Bobcats still have one of the top offenses in the MAC, ranking fourth in scoring (32.9 ppg) and fourth overall (444.3 ypg).
Tettleton has been sensational under center for Ohio since being named the starter. Tettleton became the school's all-time leading passer two weeks ago against Bowling Green. He has passed for 2,281 yards and 16 TDs with just two interceptions in 10 games this season. He has shown accuracy by completing 62.6 percent of his attempts (193-of-308) and has added four rushing touchdowns as well.
The junior quarterback keeps the opposition guessing consistently by spreading the ball around. Ten different Bobcats have at least 100 receiving yards with Donte Foster pacing the group with 529 yards and seven TDs on 45 receptions.
The Bobcats have relied heavily on Blankenship to move the chains this season. The junior tailback is 12th in the FBS and third in the MAC in rushing with 1,355 yards on 264 carries. Blankenship looked to be slowing down as he went into last week's game with three-straight sub-100-yard performances after dashing past the century mark in his first five games. Blankenship broke out of his slump by turning 21 carries into 161 yards and a career-high three TDs.
The Bobcats' defensive unit was disappointing last week versus Ball State. The Cardinals racked up 357 rushing yards and 588 in total, both of which were the most by an opponent this season.
Junior linebacker Keith Moore has been the heart and soul of the defense and has recorded a team-best 86 total tackles, which is 33 more than anyone else on the roster. Neal Huynh is an aggressive lineman and has compiled eight tackles for loss. Moore, Jelani Woseley, and Nathan Carpenter have recorded two interceptions each.
Hazell's squad is an offensive juggernaut. KSU has been held under 30 points on just two occasions this season and has averaged 35 points per contest through 11 games, despite facing top tier defenses such as Rutgers and Bowling Green. The Golden Flashes have the ability to torch teams through the air with Keith or pound away on the ground with Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
Archer (1,284 yards) and Durham (1,079 yards) have used their contrasting running styles to shred opposing defenses. Durham is an every down back that showed his toughness by compiling 131 yards on 22 carries against Rutgers' sixth ranked rush defense earlier this season. He is probable to play on Friday despite a lingering hip injury
Archer's electrifying speed was evident last week as he tallied 241 yards on just 17 carries, which includes his 79-yard second quarter dash to the end zone and a 74-yard touchdown run in which he eluded a pair of tackles before reversing field to break away.
"He made our guys miss, just like he makes everybody miss," said Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson.
Archer's per-carry average of 10.3 yards is the best in one season by any in Division I college football player since at least 2000.
Keith has not been a prolific passer this season but has been serviceable, completing 58.2 percent of his pass attempts for 1,504 yards with six interceptions to 10 touchdown passes.
KSU is not great at stopping opponents from racking up yards, but it manages to come up with turnovers at opportune times. The Golden Flashes recorded seven takeaways in their upset at Rutgers. Six of the Scarlet Knights' turnovers were Gary Nova interceptions. Nova entered the game with only three INTs in RU's first eight contests. KSU has managed to intercept five more passes over its past two games to increase the team's total to 33 turnovers in 11 games.
Luke Batton is the anchor of the defense with a team-best 103 total stops. Luke Wollet is second on the squad with 91 tackles and also has made a team- leading four interceptions.