MACtion battle of the birds: Football looks to end RedHawks’ record home win streak

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

Kent State’s football team brings two nationally-ranked stars to its Mid-American Conference showdown against Miami (OH).

Redshirt junior wide receiver Dante Cephas ranks 12th in the nation in receiving yards, and junior running back Marquez Cooper is tied for 16th in the nation in rushing yards.

“I like our approach and our plan of attack,” coach Sean Lewis said. “We’re going to try and stay as balanced as we can because I think if you can have a strong right jab with a strong left counter, you’re going to be ok.”

KSU travels to Miami Saturday, which holds the fourth-longest active home winning streak in college football at 14-straight home wins.

“We have not gone on the road yet this year with this club and won,” Lewis said. “We have to make sure that every single day and every single moment we get, the focus and the intensity and the self-discipline has a game urgency to it.”

Kent State beat the RedHawks last year in a thrilling 48-47 overtime victory to capture the MAC East title.

Miami is 2-3 on the season and 0-1 in the MAC. The Flashes are 2-3 but 1-0 in the MAC. They have lost all three of their away battles.

Kent State comes off a 31-24 overtime victory over Ohio University Oct. 1. The RedHawks lost 24-20 to Buffalo (2-3 overall, 2-0 MAC).

Last week, KSU became the first team in FBS history to have a 240-yard rusher and a 240-yard receiver in the same game.

Cephas had a 246-yard receiving game, which broke a program record for most receiving yards in a game. He leads the MAC in receiving yards with 501.

Cooper is the team’s leading rusher after his 245-yard rushing performance. He ranks second in the MAC in rushing yards with 510 yards and leads all running backs in the MAC in scoring with six touchdowns.

“Practice repetition is game reality,” Lewis said. “Ever since he has entered our organization and the moment he arrived on our campus as a mid-year graduate, he has been a guy that every single day you know what you’re going to get from him. You know his character, you know his make-up, you know the chip on his shoulder that he carries.”

Cooper and Kent State’s rushing game is top in the MAC, averaging 219 yards per game.

Miami’s defense ranks first in the MAC in rushing and total yards. The RedHawks have only given up an average of 84.8 rushing yards per game this year.

The team’s rushing defense is ninth in the nation.

“Year in and year out, coach Chuck Martin does an unbelievable job of stopping the run,” Lewis said. “Their front four have reloaded — they had four kids last year who are no longer with them and have reloaded with guys up front.”

Four d-line stars, all of whom won All-MAC honors last season, no longer play for the RedHawks. Returning sixth-year linebacker Ryan McWood leads the team with 23 sacks. He broke his hand in Sept. 24’s game against Northwestern and did not play last week due to surgery.

Sophomore defensive back John Saunders Jr. led his team with six solo tackles against Buffalo.

The RedHawks, led by eight-year coach Martin, are coming off a 24-20 loss against Buffalo. Lewis sees this performance as a threat.

“A team coming off a loss is a very dangerous team,” Lewis said. “We need to make sure that our preparation is right. Last year’s game was great, but last year is last year, and we have to handle the here and now and be present with this team and this opponent.”

The RedHawks have the conference’s fourth-best rushing team, averaging 170 yards per game. Kent State has the fifth-best rushing defense, allowing 152.6 yards per game.

Sophomore running back Keyon Mozee leads Miami’s backfield. He has the seventh-most rushing yards in the MAC. But last week, he rushed for only 64 yards on 14 attempts.

“They’re going to be a run-first team,” Lewis said. “They have a big offensive line that has tremendous experience.  We are going to respect them and know their schemes. We have to be relentless to the football. To collect souls, you have to be able to run and get there.”

Miami’s passing game has struggled this year – ranked the worst in the MAC with 133.6 yards per game. The next closest is Western Michigan, which averages 175.2 passing yards per game.

Miami’s quarterback Aveon Smith has the fewest passing yards in the MAC with only 465. The next closest is Western Michigan’s QB with 774 passing yards.

The redshirt freshman took over for junior Brett Gabbert, who went down with an upper body injury in the first game of the year.

“He’s very athletic and very dynamic, more than capable as a thrower,” Lewis said. “You can tell with each start they are finding out, with the time spent together and the real reps that he is getting in game action, what the best way is for them to deploy him and all the skill that they have around him.”

KSU has only the ninth-best passing defense in the MAC, allowing 295.6 passing yards per game. Last game against OU, the Flashes gave up 322 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Kent State’s redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee comes off his best performance of the year, where he passed for 398 yards and a touchdown. He currently has the sixth-most passing yards in the MAC with 1,080.

The RedHawks sit right in the middle of the MAC in passing defense, giving up 253.6 yards per game. Last game, they gave up just 188 passing yards.

Kickoff starts at 3:30 pm Saturday in Oxford.

“As we all know in this league, it is on to the next one,” Lewis said. “We have to have another great week of preparation and have to take this moment to moment and have to do the next thing right.”

Jacob Hansen is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]