Flashes haven’t fared well against Big Ten

Joe Harrington

Team faces No. 3 Ohio State in year similar to Buckeyes’ title season

Kent State senior defensive lineman Colin Ferrell loses his helmet while tackling Miami quarterback Mike Kokal during last week’s 20-13 loss at Dix Stadium. The Flashes travel to Ohio Stadium in Columbus to play the No. 3 Buckeyes tomorrow at noon. Leslie

Credit: Ron Soltys

For football players who grew up in Ohio, playing in Ohio Stadium is exciting. With almost every game sold out, the chance to play in front of more than 100,000 people is a experience of a lifetime.

For Kent State players, playing the No. 3 team in the country, Ohio State, tomorrow at Ohio Stadium will be more than exciting. As junior quarterback Julian Edelman said, it’s a chance to show the state of Ohio what Kent State football has to offer.

The Flashes have not fared well against the Big Ten, losing all eight games including last season’s 44-0 loss at home to Minnesota. Ohio State, who Kent State last played in 2002, defeated the Flashes 51-17 en route to their seventh national championship title. It’s only the second time the two schools have played each other.

That game was also the last time Kent State played a top-10 team, the Buckeyes were No. 8 when they played the Flashes in 2002.

But there have been a lot of changes since then at Kent State.

For starters, only one coach, offensive line coach A.J. Pratt, is still on the staff. Doug Martin, who was hired as offensive coordinator in 2003, wasn’t named head coach until 2004. That same year, Martin hired Pete Rekstis as the defensive coordinator.

Rekstis played for Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel at Youngstown State. Rekstis, who may be most responsible for the Flashes’ 34th ranked defense in the country, was also defensive back coach for Tressel at Youngstown State. He must now face one of his mentors.

“Coach (Tressel) gave me my chance to earn a degree and play at YSU,” Rekstis said. “I’ve known (Tressel) since 1985-86. Obviously he was a big factor in me becoming a football coach.”

Rekstis said his unit needs to continue to stop the run and correct passing game issues, which plagued them against Miami, if they want to have success against the Buckeyes. The Flashes lead the Mid-American Conference in rushing defense and total defense.

As for a philosophy in defending his old coach, Rekstis said Tressel’s offensive game-plan looks a lot like it did at Youngstown State.

“Coach Tressel hasn’t changed,” Rekstis said. “He’s developed a sound philosophy of offense, defense and special teams. You’re not going to have him change year to year. I think they do a tremendous job on offense.”

One strategy that Martin will use in this game involves playing as many people as he can in order to play fast. It is the same plan the Flashes used last season at Virginia Tech. That game was closer than many expected, with the Hokies up just 6-0 at halftime. The final was 23-0.

The strategy involves taking the starters out at certain points in the first half. Junior quarterback Julian Edelman has faith in his coaches’ decision.

“He’s been through these kinds of games and he’s experienced with this,” Edelman said. “So what ever he says, I trust him fully with it.”

Edelman’s offensive unit, which is full of young players at the skilled positions, must play a flawless game if they are to have success against a top-10 defense like Ohio State. Saying the Buckeye’s defense is playing well is an understatement when they allow just seven points a game and 3.2 yards per offensive play.

The Flashes enter the game with one of the best running games in the MAC, led by sophomore Eugene Jarvis, the nation’s third leading rusher with 851 yards. But for all the success the Flashes have on the ground, penalties, turnovers and an inconsistent passing game have repeatedly kept them out of the end zone. The Flashes are being outscored in the fourth quarter 63-26 this season.

Christen Haywood, a sophomore running back, is one player expected to see more playing time as part of Martin’s strategy. The Columbus native has played on special teams throughout the season and will have 10 to 15 friends and family members in attendance. Haywood is just one of the young players who Edelman said needs to have a special game.

“Our guys are going to have to grow up quickly in this game,” Edelman said. “We can’t make crucial mistakes, like dropped balls or penalties, to beat (high ranking teams).”

Kent State will travel to Columbus tomorrow to play Ohio State in Ohio Stadium at noon. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network, with former Kent State head coach Glenn Mason as the analyst.

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].