Piscataway, NJ – The Kent State Golden Flashes try to become the fourth team from the Mid-American Conference to take down a Big East foe when they clash with the No. 18 Rutgers Scarlet Knights at HighPoint Stadium.
The Golden Flashes are riding a five-game winning streak into their final non- conference test. All but one of KSU's victories have been by at least 14 points, but its only contest versus a BCS conference school this season was a 47-14 loss to Kentucky. Coach Darrell Hazell has done a remarkable job of turning around the program, which started 1-6 last season in his first year at the helm. The Golden Flashes have picked up 10 wins in their last 12 games dating back to last season.
The Scarlet Knights are just one of 11 remaining undefeated teams in the FBS and are 7-0 for the first time since 2006. Coach Kyle Flood is trying become the first Rutgers coach to start his career out 8-0. The Scarlet Knights have the longest active winning streak in the Big East with eight in a row dating back to last season. Rutgers is coming off of a 35-10 win over Temple in Philadelphia.
This will be the third meeting between these programs. Rutgers won both previous encounters. The Scarlet Knights took down KSU, 29-21, in the most recent meeting in 2004. This season three different MAC programs have handed a loss to a Big East school. Ball State defeated South Florida, Western Michigan beat Connecticut, and most recently, Toledo upset Cincinnati which handed the Bearcats their first loss of the season and knocked them out of the top 25.
Hazell's squad has been scoring at will in recent weeks. In its past three outings, Kent State scored 41 points versus Eastern Michigan, 31 points at Army, and 41 against Western Michigan last week behind the arm of Spencer Keith and the backfield duo of Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
Archer (687) and Durham (649) have used their contrasting running styles to shred opposing defenses. Archer provides explosiveness with a team-best 10.1 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. Archer has garnered the attention of many with his dazzling playmaking, including this week's opposing head coach.
"They have the most dynamic offensive player in the country, No. 1, Dri Archer. I'll just read you the statistics, and it's almost video game-like statistics: 10.1 yards per carry, 13.9 yards per reception, 47.7 yards per kick return, and he's had 11 kick returns. So it's not like he's only had one or two kick returns and he popped one," said Flood. "So he is a tremendous, tremendous offensive weapon, and again, the most dynamic offensive player that I certainly have seen on film or on TV this year, will be a tremendous challenge to our defense to try to minimize his impact on the game."
Archer is also a weapon in the passing game, tying for first on the team with 20 receptions which he has turned into 278 yards and three scores.
Keith has not been a prolific passer this season but has been serviceable, completing 55.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,042 yards with only three interceptions to six touchdown passes. The senior quarterback has thrown at least one TD pass in each of the past four games.
KSU has been improving defensively from week to week. After holding two straight opponents under 20 points, the Golden Flashes forced six total turnovers against Western Michigan last week to help the team overcome a 24-17 deficit.
"Last year if we were down 24-17, I think everyone is looking around waiting for someone to make a play," said senior safety Luke Wollet. "This year, everyone wants to be the guy who makes that play. That's one of the reasons we are having this success."
Luke Batton is the anchor of the defense with a team-best 71 total stops. Wollet is second on the squad with 52 tackles and also has two interceptions.
Rutgers' offense starts with Jawan Jamison, who is the Big East's leading rusher thus far with 779 yards on 177 carries. The sophomore tailback has been consistently great all season with 100 rushing yards or more in six of seven games. In the Scarlet Knights' win over Temple last week, Jamison set a career-high with 81 receiving yards.
Quarterback Gary Nova improved to 10-2 as a starter last week and earned the Big East Offensive Player of the Week Award for the second time this season, passing for 232 yards and four touchdowns against Temple. His string of 164 attempts without an interception came to an end in the contest. Nova has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,508 yards and 15 TDs with only three interceptions.
The Scarlet Knights are stacked with an array of talented wideouts for Nova to utilize in the passing attack. Brandon Coleman has used his great size and physical play to reel in a team-high 26 receptions for 399 yards and five touchdown passes. Senior WR Mark Harrison caught his 16th career touchdown pass in last week's win over Temple to move into a tie for fourth place on the school's career touchdown reception leader board.
Rutgers' defense has been the engine to the team's success this season. The Scarlet Knights are ranked third in the FBS in both rushing defense (69.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.3 ppg). Rutgers has forced 20 turnovers and turned four of them into defensive touchdowns.
Linebacker Khaseem Greene is the anchor of the defensive unit with 67 total stops, 3.5 sacks, and a couple of interceptions. Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones both add playmaking ability to the defensive backfield. Both cornerbacks have recorded three interceptions this season and Jones returned one of his 14 yards for six points.