Flashes’ defense suprising Doug Martin

After facing two All-Conference running backs, Kent State’s rush defense ranks seventh in the nation.

The Flashes limited Boston College junior running back Montel Harris to 91 yards on Sept. 11 and Penn State senior running back Evan Royster to 43 yards on Saturday.

Despite playing without senior defensive lineman Monte Simmons, Kent State is succeeding in forcing teams to pass the ball.

Filling in the void of the All Mid-American Conference performer is freshman defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix.

Nix, a 6-foot true freshman from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, has 10 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in three games.

Head coach Doug Martin said he is surprised the defense has been this successful without Simmons and is also impressed by Nix’s strong play.

“We expected that from Roosevelt,” Martin said. “We really thought he would be able to do that for us, but he’s probably exceeded our expectations also. He’s already physically strong. We’re glad we got him.”

While the run defense is exceeding expectations, the pass defense ranks 80th in the nation. Kent State’s pass defense has allowed touchdown passes of 42, 48, 23 and 31 yards in the first three weeks. Much of the secondary’s struggles are pointed at the inconsistent play at cornerback.

After intercepting two Penn State passes Saturday, junior cornerback Norman Wolfe was beat on a 48-yard touchdown pass.

Although there are question marks surrounding the position, Martin said he’s impressed with several players in his secondary so far.

“(Senior cornerback) Kirk Belgrave is really playing well for us, and (senior safety Dan Hartman and senior safety Brian Lainhart) are doing really well,” Martin said. “(Junior cornerback) Josh Pleasant played a much better game against Penn State than he did at Boston College. He really played physical in this Penn State game. Tackled well, came up and played the ball.”

Lainhart ranks second on Kent State with 29 tackles and leads all active Football Bowl Subdivision players with 15 career interceptions.

While the senior is confident the team can stop any team’s run defense, he said the team cannot allow big plays if they want to win football games.

“We’ve had the top-five run defense in the country for the first three weeks, so we can play run defense,” Lainhart said. “We can’t let the ball go over our head, and if we do that we’re going to be pretty darn good.”

Kent State rests this weekend before starting MAC play at Miami on Oct. 2. The Flashes return to Dix Stadium after three games away on Oct. 9 for Homecoming against Akron.

Contact Lance Lysowki at [email protected].