Flashes eager for MAC play, return of key players

Kent+State+running+back+Dri+Archer+weaves+his+way+through+the+Western+Michigan+defense+during+last+years+Homecoming+Game+in+Dix+Stadium+on+Oct.+20%2C+2012.+The+Flashes+won+the+game+against+the+Broncos+41-24.+Photo+by+Brian+Smith.

Kent State running back Dri Archer weaves his way through the Western Michigan defense during last year’s Homecoming Game in Dix Stadium on Oct. 20, 2012. The Flashes won the game against the Broncos 41-24. Photo by Brian Smith.

Nick Shook

Kent State might have taller obstacles ahead, but with one of their biggest hurdles now in the past, the Flashes are entering the fifth week of the season with their heads held high.

Despite three straight losses, they have a reason to be excited for Saturday’s game at Western Michigan: Two of their best players are expected to return.

Running back Dri Archer will rejoin his teammates on the field and add a much-needed threat to a stagnant Flashes’ offense after missing all of the last three games. Offensive lineman Pat McShane will also be back in the starting lineup to help open holes for Archer and the rest of the Kent State running backs.

The impending return of McShane and Archer isn’t the only subject that has the Flashes eager to prepare for Saturday. After spending the past two weeks playing schools from Bowl Championship Series conferences, the Flashes are more than happy to be facing a team from the MAC.

“When you play a non-conference schedule like we did, against [Louisiana State] and Penn State back-to-back, hopefully it builds you coming into the MAC,” head coach Paul Haynes said Monday. “We still have to go on the road and play an up-and-rising Western Michigan team, so we still have to have our road focus […] but we’re looking for to the challenge and getting into MAC play.

“This is kind of where it all starts for us.”

Western Michigan (0-4) didn’t exactly face four cupcake opponents, either. The Broncos started the season on the road at Big Ten Conference-member Michigan State and played two more road games against fellow Big Ten schools No. 17 Northwestern and Iowa. The glaring loss on the Broncos’ schedule, though, is a 27-23 defeat at the hands of Football Championship Subdivision school Nicholls State.

Despite that surprising defeat, and the Broncos’ most recent 59-3 loss to Iowa, the Flashes are not taking their opponent lightly.

“I’m sure [WMU head coach P.J. Fleck] feels that he played against better competition, so it prepared him for the conference play in the MAC,” Haynes said. “What we see on film, we’re going to get a better team this coming Saturday, and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”

Positives aside, Kent State will need to address some glaring weaknesses before traveling to Kalamazoo, Mich. A string of injuries on the defensive line has decimated the Flashes’ depth, and their rushing attack on the offensive side has been atrocious. Running back Trayion Durham carried the ball 11 times for a mere 38 yards in the loss to Penn State, but the return of McShane and Archer should aid improvement, Haynes said.

“It’s kind of hard to have a true measure because you didn’t have your so-called best 11 out there with Pat not being out there on offense, [defensive lineman] Nate Terhune not being out there on defense and Dri of course,” Haynes said.

“Injuries are a part of it. To me, luck in football is when you can go injury-free. Right now, we’re not having that luck because we’re getting guys banged up that didn’t happen here in the past. But the next guy’s got to step up.”

The Flashes lost Terhune to a broken leg against LSU, and backup Chris Fairchild left with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury during the second quarter of Kent State’s 34-0 loss at Penn State on Saturday. Fortunately for the Flashes, the injury was not as bad as initially thought and turned out to be an ankle sprain.

“We may get him back in there this week,” Haynes said. “If not, then Marcus Wright will be a guy to play inside, Elias [Sayre] may be a guy that will play in there for us. Hopefully we’ll get Chris back to get us at least 15 to 20 snaps we can get out of him, but we’ll have to see.”

Sayre, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive end, saw time at defensive tackle against Penn State. Haynes would rather keep the junior from Lebanon, Ohio, at his listed position but will insert him inside again if necessary. Outside of Sayre and Wright, the Flashes would be forced to reach deep into the reserves for a defensive lineman to play alongside senior Roosevelt Nix, whom Haynes said Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien made a point to compliment both before and after Saturday’s game.

“[Nix] was the only guy [O’Brien] talked about,” Haynes said. “He said ‘that No. 5 is a special player,’ which I thought was something special from an opposing coach, to tell you about a defensive lineman who is an impact player for you.”

The Flashes will need more impact plays from Nix and his fellow defenders against Western Michigan’s pass-dominated offense. Kent State held Penn State receiver Allen Robinson to just three catches for 43 yards, a statistic that surprised the Nittany Lions’ faithful following the game but was business as usual for a Kent State secondary that has improved with each week.

Despite those results, it’s back to work for the Flashes.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” defensive back Dylan Farrington said. “We need a lot of film study and preparation is where it starts, and execution. It’ll bring us to where we know how to play, and we’ll be all right.”

Nick Shook is the football reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].