From the other campus: Defensive-minded Bulls look for sixth straight win


Kent State’s Dri Archer runs around University of South Alabama Kaleb Blanchard during the Saturday Oct. 19, 2013 game in Mobile, Ala. Kent State will go against the University of Buffalo with 2-6 season record. Photo courtesy of The Vanguard.

Nick Shook

Kent State returns home Saturday in search of its first win in a month after a lopsided loss to South Alabama last week extended its losing streak to three games. The Flashes (2-6, 1-3 Mid-American Conference) will greet Buffalo (5-2, 3-0 MAC), a team in the midst of a five-game winning streak.

The Flashes have a reason to be excited heading into Saturday’s game, as quarterback Colin Reardon is expected to play after sitting out of the game against South Alabama due to an ankle injury. Flashes head coach Paul Haynes said Wednesday the quarterback looked fine in practice and is expected to play, as is standout defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix, who has been dealing with a back injury for much of the season. Nix’s presence should provide a big boost to a defense, which will be tasked with stopping Buffalo’s run-first offensive approach.

Daily Kent Stater reporter Nick Shook caught up with senior sports editors Jon Gagnon and Ben Tarhan of The Spectrum, Buffalo’s student newspaper, to learn more about the Bulls before they arrive in Kent.

Nick Shook: Buffalo faced two of the nation’s best in No. 4 Ohio State and No. 8 Baylor in its first two weeks, and despite lopsided losses, the Bulls remained competitive. Since then, they’ve faced opponents with a combined record of 5-29. Is this Bulls team for real?

Jon Gagnon and Ben Tarhan, The Spectrum: We asked the same question in the beginning of the year. We knew the first three weeks were basically locks, and they were going to be 1-2, but we didn’t count on UConn being awful. The short answer is yes. I don’t think they’ll run the table in the MAC. Even though they drew both Ohio and Bowling Green at home, they’ll probably lose one of those games and maybe lose against Toledo on the road. This is a bowl team. The defense is dominant and the offense has looked good. They just have to start games faster. They let Western Michigan and UMass hang around in the first half the last two weeks. That won’t end well against better teams.

NS: What should we know about Buffalo’s Joe Licata, who usurped former starter Alex Zordich and is in his second season under center?

TS: Licata is interesting. He’s the most competent quarterback the Bulls have had since Drew Willy, but this team’s identity revolves around the run. Licata’s role in the past few weeks has been simply to hand the ball off to Branden Oliver and throw short completions. Fortunately, that is also his strongest attribute. He doesn’t have the best arm, but he is accurate and is best when making short to mid range passes. He’s also a very smart quarterback and usually makes the right decision. If needed, Licata can shoulder the load and move the Bulls down the field, but Buffalo will be most successful running the ball.

NS: How about Buffalo’s defense? We all know about standout linebacker Khalil Mack, but what about the other 10 defenders?

TS: The defense is the heart and soul of this team, and they are going to win and lose on their backs. You’ve mentioned Mack, who despite the numbers has been outstanding this season. A few other names are linebacker Adam Redden, cornerback Najja Johnson, defensive ends Beau Bachtelle and Colby Way and safety Okoye Houston. Redden has won MAC East Defensive Player of the Week twice this season, and Way has won it once. Way is probably the second best player on defense. He lines up on the same side as Mack, which means a sea of linemen trying to cover Mack often swallows him up, but when he breaks free, he’s an All-MAC defender. He had three sacks against Western Michigan two weeks ago. Bachtelle and Redden line up opposite Way and Mack. Redden’s high tackle numbers come from his positioning on the field. People don’t want to go toward Mack so they pick on Redden instead. But Redden is no slouch. He is a fast guy — a converted safety — and still plays a hybrid safety/linebacker position. He also has a nose for picking up fumbles. Bachtelle is a big guy on the other side. His breakout game this season came against UConn where he had two sacks. Johnson is the team’s best cornerback. He led the MAC in interceptions last season. He is a superb defender when dropping back in zone coverage but struggles in most man-coverage situations.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].