1. Kent State doesn't have the greatest football tradition on-the-field, but, even so, Coach Paul Haynes has been a bit of a disappointment. Short of beating Alabama, after the loss to NC A&T, is there anything he can do to save his job? And, are there names already circulating for the probable vacancy?
Actually, Kent State has hella tradition. Some of the players to walk through that door include Lou Holtz, Jack Lambert, Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, Josh Cribbs, Julian Edelman, Antonio Gates (though he never played football) and yet more others. In the MAC, they're one of the oldest programs and though historically unsuccessful, they've got a lot of names they can pull up.
Paul Haynes has definitely not been Saban, Holtz, or hell, even Pinkel. You can't help but to feel bad for him, though. He's a Kent alum and it means a lot to him to blead the team. Darrel Hazell left the program in tatters when he accepted the Purdue job, and the few bright spots on the team (Dri Archer, Roosevelt Nix, Trayvion Durham, etc.) dealt with injuries all season in his first year. To put that in perspective, Kent went from the MAC Championship game and a national ranking at 11-1 to 3-9 in one season.
Haynes is a sneaky good recruiter and has a lot of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But offense has always been a weak spot for Haynes. I blame Don Treadwell, the OC that once switched Miami's offense from a spread to a triple option without warning halfway through his last season as a head coach, more for that but that's another story.
Haynes should be good for at least the rest of the season. He's an alum, his CROOTIN is decent and there's honestly no one out there who probably wants this job. It's a thankless one in a location that isn't exactly great. One could argue Kent is the worst coaching job in Ohio in football even behind FCS Youngstown State.
2. After finishing next to last in total offense and in rushing last season (790 yards rushing, 3250 yards total,) Kent State seems to have made a more concerted effort to run the ball (159 YPG.) However, the passing game has dropped off considerably (193.7 YPG.) Is this a function of personnel or a rethinking of offensive philosophy?
With the aforementioned Don Treadwell, who the hell knows? That being said, I think the answer is both. Kent State's offensive personnel is extremely young at key spots and isn't necessarily the best unit in the conference. This is how thin the offense is: last year's starting QB Colin Reardon is now a wide receiver. That ain't good. However, Kent State has always been really successful on the ground and has always been deep in the running back rotation. That's probably what has spurred Hayes and Treadwell to go down this line of thinking with the Kent offense. Control the ball on one side, stop the ball on the other. It's classic football, and certainly something most fans today would probably struggle to watch, but if they can make it work and the right talent develops, they can open up the playbook in the future.
3. Despite a disappointing start (1-2,) the defense has actually played pretty well (just over 320 YPG allowed.) What does the Kent State defense do well, and who are some names we should be on the lookout for?
Kent State's defense does just about everything well. They are an extremely disciplined unit that does not give up stupid penalties. They'll occasionally give up a big play, but then, that's really a function of the game. The defense is an experienced group and they're not going to miss their marks. They held two Power Five opponents in Minnesota last season and Penn State this season to tough games, causing turnovers and scoring on the defensive side of the ball. Names to look out for are Demetrius Monday, Juantez McRae and Najee Murray in the secondary. Monday has a reputation for being a shutdown corner, while McRae is known as a ballhawk and Murray is good at stopping action.
Terrance Waugh and Jon Cunningham are on the defensive lline and they will eat you up and spit you out if you're not careful; Waugh alreaay has five sacks on the season, which is good enough for second in the country. They are two explosively athletic talents that should have an interesting matchup with Alabama's vaulted offensive line.
4. Who are the stars on offense, and how do you think the Flashes will try and attack a nasty Alabama defense?
Kent doesn't really have options out wide to throw to and Mylik Mitchell is a more talented scrambler than passer, so there's that, I suppose. Justin Rankin, previously the fourth-stringer, is now a starter at running back and has been a good find for the Flashes, with a quick and aggressive running style. Nick Holley, brother of defensive stud Nate, is a good change-of-pace back as well for the Flashes, providing power in the trenches. It's a pity you won't be able to see Antwan Dixon or Raekwon James, though. Those guys are electric.
5. This is not at all related to Kent State, but being a MAC blogger, who do you think has the inside track for the MAC-West title, Central Michigan or Toledo? And, how has Toledo been able to quietly build a Northern Ohio power the last few seasons?
Ah, I knew you'd get sick of Kent State talk.
Being a CMU alum, I'd say that they have the upper edge. But as a professional blogger, I should probably be a little more realistic. Of all the teams in the MAC West that have a shot at the title, I'm gonna go against the tide and say Toledo has the best shot. Hear me out. Toledo in the last six years is undefeated in the state of Michigan, going 18-0 over CMU, EMU and WMU. That's impressive.
One also has to consider the talent they have at key skill positions, including Logan Woodside, successor to former ‘Bama QB Phillip Ely, Kareem Hunt, Terry Swanson, Michael Roberts and Jon'Vea Johnson, amongst others. The Rockets are absolutely stacked in every position and as you know being an SEC fan, depth is key.
Toledo has also spoiled WMU the last two seasons when it looked like the Broncos were unstoppable. The only thing that normally gets in the way of Toledo is NIU, who in previous years is almost guaranteed to get hot at the right time to win the division. However, NIU looks very stoppable this year and I think Toledo has a real chance of winning the division with no losses.
To the second question, Toledo has Trusted The Process. Matt Campbell built that program up to a titan on the MAC scene by bringing an instinctual, hard-nosed mentality to the Rockets. Oh, and it also helped that Campbell stuck gold constantly in CROOTIN. He was a master at assessing talent and then developing said talent. It certainly helps that Toledo is nestled in a good area of Ohio, where he can grab recruits that were spurned by larger programs such as Ohio State or Michigan. Jason Candle, his assistant coach, was set to go with Campbell to Iowa State, but decided to stay on to finish what Campbell started and finally win a MAC Championship.
6. Be honest, does Alabama cover a 43-point spread? How does this game play out and who is the game MVP?
I think that spread is somewhat ridiculous and reactionary. I'm looking at more of a 30-35 point gap than a 43-point one. No way Kent State comes close to winning though. I could see Damien Harris or Bo Scarbrough having a field day with a clearly smaller defensive line, or Calvin Ridley overpowering the defensive backfield with sheer athleticism.
7. Finally, Kent State shocks the world, upsetting No. 1 Alabama in front of 102,000 people. How can this happen?
Kent State has shown in the past that its defense can help keep the team in games. Just look back at the Minnesota tape from last season or the first three quarters of the Penn State game a couple weeks ago. They will need to play the game of their lives as a unit and the offense will have to get some lucky plays and make no mistakes down trhe stretch, something that will be incredibly hard against a stacked Alabama roster.
On paper, it's a complete mismatch. But you never know what can happen until you hit the field.