Flashes football travels to Buffalo for MAC opener


Philip Botta

Senior runningback Dri Archer attempts to break a tackle from Towson during Kent’s first game on August 30. The Flashes will play at Buffalo at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Photo by Phillip Botta.

Tim Dorst

Since the start of the 2012 season, the Kent State Golden Flashes have had its share of ups and downs, stemming from a solid victory over Towson University in the season opener to a disappointing loss to the University of Kentucky on Sept. 8.

After over a week of preparation, head coach Darrell Hazell said he felt his team has made the best of its extra practice time.

“We had a few extra days, and I think we put in some great preparation for this one,” Hazell said. “I think our guys have done a great job with their concentration level and their expectation level. I’m excited with where we are right now.”

The Flashes will open its Mid-American Conference schedule on the road to take on the University at Buffalo Bulls Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Kent State is looking to bounce back from its 47-14 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats, in which the defense allowed 539 yards of offense. Senior linebacker C.J. Malauulu said the way the defense played last week in Lexington, Ky., was not at the level that he expected.

“We didn’t like the taste of that at all,” Malauulu said. “We got our butts kicked. We’ve cleaned up a few of the mistakes we made last week, and now we want to prove ourselves this week, if only to ourselves.”

Of those 539 yards, 354 came against the Flashes secondary — a fact that junior safety Luke Wollet takes personally.

“It’s not something we’re about here,” Wollet said. “We know we have a great defensive line that other teams won’t be able to run against, so the first thing those teams are going to do is pass it. We’ve got to do a much better job of trying to limit the yardage and the big plays.”

The Bulls (1-1) are coming off of a 56-34 win over Morgan State on Sept. 8, a game in which the Bulls’ offense compiled 571 yards of total offense. Bulls junior running back Branden Oliver rushed for a season-high 238 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Alex Zordich threw for 237 yards in the game, with 154 of those yards collected by junior wide receiver Alex Neutz.

Hazell said the team needs to stifle the Bulls’ explosive offense by turning Buffalo into a one-dimensional team.

“Obviously, Buffalo has a couple players who can hurt you,” Hazell said. “We need to play with confidence early on in the game and force them into some three-and-outs.”

The second-year head coach added that the Flashes’ defensive line would need to play extremely well to push the Bulls’ offensive line backwards and keep Oliver from being effective.

Offensively, the Flashes look to continue their success in the running game while attempting to make improvements with the pass. Hazell said he believes their success lies with their offensive line and their running backs.

“I think that’s where we’re very strong, and we have two great tailbacks. We’ll put the game in those guys’ hands and in the offensive linemen’s hands, and that’ll enable us to do so many different things.”

Along with sophomore Trayion Durham and junior Dri Archer, the Flashes may also give touches to freshman Julian Durden, whom Hazell described as a dynamic player with the ball in his hands.

Against Kentucky, Kent State struggled offensively with the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and Hazell said he would like to see senior quarterback Spencer Keith elevate his game in those situations.

“I thought there were two or three passes in the red zone that he could’ve completed, and he needs to pull the trigger on those,” Hazell said. “He has to understand the spacing in the red zone is completely different than it is further up the field. There’s not a lot of wide-open guys in the red zone, so when a guy gets a step or two on the defense, you’ve got to throw the football to him quickly.”

Kent State could get a boost in its offensive attack this week in the form of senior receiver Tyshon Goode, who was yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury. Hazell said Goode will be a game-time decision.

The Flashes have set its goal to bring home a MAC championship. Wollet said he knows what to expect from conference opponents.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for us,” Wollet said. “(Buffalo’s) a solid team with a very solid offense. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s never easy in the MAC.”

Hazell said he knows one-fourth of the Flashes’ season will be over after this week’s game, so every game is crucial in determining where Kent State stands in the conference.

“This is why you play for a MAC Championship,” Hazell said. “Every game you have a chance to play in the conference, you’ve got to believe going in that you’re playing for a championship. This game will be a good test for us, and if we come out with high energy and high execution, then I like where we are.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].