Machen impressive despite loss

Joey Simon

Hidden in Michigan State’s 49-14 drubbing of Kent State on Saturday were a few positives and negatives that will be vital in the Flashes’ success this season. While the team was overmatched in size and talent, Kent State showed a number of things to back up my prediction that they’ll be a contender in the Mid-American Conference this year.

Machen is the real deal

I now see why sophomore quarterback Michael Machen was recruited by the University of Alabama, which has won 12 national championships. The guy has an absolute cannon. Kent State coach Doug Martin brought Machen to Kent State to run his version of the “Fun and Gun” spread offense. He couldn’t have found a better person to do it.

In a game in which he admittedly was a bit off in his timing, the junior college transfer threw for two touchdowns, nearly 300 yards and, at times, picked apart Michigan State’s defense. It didn’t matter if he was throwing on the run, across his body or under pressure, his passes were on point — 31 of 52 times I might add. His one interception was a self-proclaimed “stupid mistake” that he said was caused by early-season jitters. (The guy did play his first Division 1-A football game in front of Michigan State’s largest opening day crowd in 18 years.)

The bottom line: The guy can play, and he’s going to light up teams in the MAC this year, mark my words. Yet, Machen doesn’t deserve all the credit for the offense.

The receiving corps is deep and talented

In my last column, I questioned whether Kent State has a No. 1 receiver after losing former No. 1 Darell Dowery Jr. to graduation. They don’t. They have four equally talented wide-outs with exceptional hands and breakaway ability.

Najah Pruden, Derrick Bush and Marcus Hill all caught at least four passes and had at least 30 yards each in the loss. The fourth, starter Cameron Bobb, caught three passes for 27 yards. And the talent, which I also questioned, doesn’t stop with those four.

Every receiver who played — 11 different receivers caught a pass against Michigan State — showed the ability to go over the middle and make great catches. While they may be a bit young, they have speed and a knack for getting open.

They were a big reason Machen had as much success as he did, and their health and productivity will be vital to the Flashes’ success this season.

The defense is a bit overrated

Granted they were severely overmatched and playing a team that led the Big Ten in total offense in 2004, averaging a robust 460 yards per game. But when the team’s returning seven starters from a defense that was ranked No. 1 in the MAC a year ago and gives up nearly 700 yards of offense (685 to be exact), something’s wrong.

Maybe my assessment is a bit skewed because of the talent level of Michigan State. But the fact that the Spartans absolutely manhandled Kent State up and down the field from the first snap on has me a bit worried.

After the game, Martin said he was “concerned” with the team’s young safeties. I’m more unsettled about an undersized defensive line. The three down lineman average out at 262 pounds. In comparison, the offensive line, which looked outstanding by the way, has an average 33 pounds heavier.

What also bothers me is that Kent State runs a 3-4 defense, which calls for big, bulky linemen to fill the gaps and keep the blockers off the linebackers.

The one positive in being smaller is, of course, they’re quicker. And if they expect to play at the level of a No. 1 defense, they better use that speed to get around the behemoth linemen in front of them. I don’t know if these guys are on the Atkins diet or what, but if so, they need to switch over to the Krispy Kreme diet immediately.

I will say this about the defense: They can hit. They forced two fumbles inside the 20-yard line because of some viscous hits. Also, the Flashes have a solid core of linebackers that are quick to the ball and good pass rushers. But if the defensive line continues to get pushed around as it did in East Lansing, it’s going to be a long year for the defense.

Overall, the Flashes showed they have the heart and ability to contend in the MAC. The offense is exciting and a spectacle to watch — nearly every play is out of the shotgun. In fact, Machen was only under center twice against the Spartans. So, I stand by my word: The Flashes will be a player in the MAC this season, just wait and see.

Contact sports editor Joey Simon at [email protected].