Like last year, battle with Ohio is pivotal in MAC

Joe Harrington

When Jake Kilroy, Kent State sophomore punter, tells his coaches the weather will be 70 degrees and partly cloudy for Saturday’s game against Ohio at Peden Stadium in Athens, they know he’s right.

Because of last season’s game against the Bobcats, Kilroy will always be cautious of game day weather.

Last season started great for the freshman punter until howling winds and terrible weather caused Kilroy to have a total of two punts for three yards, one was even blown backward for negative yards on a cold October night at Dix Stadium.

“That’s just a game you put behind you,” Kilroy said. “I don’t even want to think about that game.”

Neither does the rest of the team. In 2006, the Flashes were on a roll, having won five straight games heading into a home game with the Mid-American Conference East division on the line.

Ohio won 17-7 and then won the East division a month later.

Kent State however, responded by losing their next two games, including a loss at Buffalo 41-14 — Buffalo had won just two games up until that point.

Kent State Coach Doug Martin has said the Ohio game was the biggest turning point of the 2006 season and has been the foundation of the team’s goal of avoiding back-to-back losses this season.

“Last year, if we beat Ohio, there’s a good chance we’d be playing in the MAC championship,” said Eugene Jarvis, sophomore running back and second leading rusher in the nation.

Jarvis has been a model of consistency for the Flashes’ offense, having run for more than 100 yards in every game this season. He and junior quarterback Julian Edelman have helped the Flashes become one of the best running teams in the MAC this season as they have ran for 947 yards in four games. If Jarvis continues to perform at such a high level, he could begin to garner some national attention.

“I don’t let that stuff get into my head,” he said. “I got to stay humble, stay focused and help my team.”

The success of the running game has been overshadowed this season by the Flashes’ struggles with turnovers and an inconsistent passing game. Edelman has now thrown six interceptions, and last week, against Akron, completed only eight passes. The Flashes had four turnovers against the Zips, turnovers that Martin said cost them the game.

“We’ve got to get beyond that now,” Martin said. “We’ve got to wash ourselves clean of it and go play a better football team this week in Ohio.”

It might take a lot of soap to wash out the turnovers this week. The Bobcats have caused the most turnovers in the MAC with 13; seven of those are interceptions.

However, the offense has not lost any confidence in their quarterback; instead they are rallying around him.

“We’re right behind him, that’s (our) leader right there on offense” Jarvis said.

The Bobcats have lost two games in row — one at Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the other to Wyoming at home — but the consensus amongst the coaches and players is that Ohio is still the team that several preseason polls picked to win the East division and still one of the best in the conference. Martin said he has a lot of respect for the Bobcats’ coaching staff and how they are able to prepare their players for every game.

One reason Ohio came into the season ranked high in the MAC is senior Kalvin McRae. McRae is a two-time all-MAC running back, who leads the league with six rushing touchdowns. He played well against Kent State last season, rushing for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Kent State is currently the third-best rushing defense in the MAC. The Flashes have allowed 674 yards in the first four games. Considering the Flashes have allowed a league low 552 passing yards, the rushing numbers look even more impressive. They don’t plan on changing their style of play because their facing a talented player either.

“When we have a really good running back (against us), we want to play better,” junior linebacker Jameson Konz said. “We just need to keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].