If it's Friday, it's blogger Q&A. This week, Charlie LaPlante from Hustle Belt, your SB Nation home for all things Mid-American Conference, takes on our questions about the Kent State Golden Flashes. Be sure to check out our answers to his questions over at HB!
STL: 11 wins two years ago, then 4 wins last season. Did losing Darrell Hazell to Purdue damage Kent State that much? Or were there bigger issues with roster turnover that hurt more?
CLP: I think Hazell caught lightning in a bottle during his time at Kent State. The Flashes were 5-7 his first year before their annus mirabilis in 2012, and that 11-3 record was greatly aided by every single bounce going their way. Their adjusted W/L for 2012, per SBN's own Bill Connelly, was 7-7. It was a dream year for Kent State, but the team wasn't really that good. (The same thing happened with the Miami RedHawks, who went 1-11 in 2009, then 10-4 with a MAC title in 2010 after every break that could have gone their way actually did.) Last season was Kent State regressing to the historic mean. The issue isn't so much losing the original coach, but the unrealistic expectations created by a freak successful season. The biggest problem last year (and this year) has been the loss of Dri Archer, who missed much of last season due to injury before moving on to the NFL. If the electric Archer was Lightning, then his backfield partner Durham was (and remains, at least when he's healthy) Thunder, the bruising power back who wears you down and makes defenses pay when they scheme to cover the speedy, shifty Archer. Without Archer in the backfield, Kent State became a power running team, and they didn't have the personnel up front to do that. Combine that with a talented, but very green, redshirt freshman quarterback, and, well, you saw what happened last season...and is happening again this season, even though Colin Reardon has more experience.
And as any Purdue fan can tell you, there's an excellent argument that Hazell was never that good a coach in the first place. After all, he wasn't the one who recruited Dri Archer and Roosevelt Nix; it was Doug Martin who saw their talent and convinced them to join the program. Hazell's reputation benefited as much from those lucky bounces as the Flashes' record did.
STL: The Golden Flashes lose their top player on each side of the ball after last year: RB Dri Archer lit up the NFL Combine and found his home on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and DT Roosevelt Nix had a brief stint with the Falcons during the preseason. Who are Kent State fans looking to to fill the holes those guys left behind?
CLP: Everyone expected the focus of the offense to be Durham and his power running attack, but he has yet to play this season after foot surgery in the offseason. Without him, the offense pretty much runs entirely through Reardon, which is a problem, because the Flashes don't really have anyone to throw the ball to. His most reliable targets this season have been his tight end and slot receiver, not really encouraging news in an offense that (in theory, anyway) uses a power attack to set up the long bomb.
On defense, the Flashes lost everyone from the line over the past two years. It started after the 2012 season, which is why Nix was much less effective in 2013: the experienced, undersized but scrappy guys who surrounded him weren't there any more, and offensive lines could sell out to stop him. And now, Nix is gone, along with four of the other five linemen who saw playing time in 2013. I guess the closest thing to a replacement would be either Chris Fairchild, a huge nose tackle who's much larger than the Flashes' average interior lineman of recent years, or Nate Terhune, a lineman who doesn't get many tackles, but when he does, they're for a loss. But in terms of a replacement for Nix at defensive end? No one.
STL: Through the first few weeks this year, things have ... not gone well. Admittedly no team from Ohio has beaten tOSU in 93 years (go Cincinnati!) but 66-0 had to hurt. What's held this team back so far this year?
CLP: What's held Kent back, I think, is huge roster turnover, the loss of their expected offensive cornerstone, and bad luck. They're not good by any means, but they also aren't as bad as they've looked. But I keep coming back to the roster: what hurt this team more than anything was the loss of Roosevelt Nix. Archer may be the guy with a shot on Sundays, but Nix was the soul of the Flashes.
Also, does Oberlin even have football any more? I don't recall. I imagine they'll party like it's 1921 in Cincinnati if the Bearcats win, although I'd prefer a meteor.
STL: Is Paul Haynes in trouble? Stability hasn't been the hallmark of KSU football, but does Haynes get a bit more leeway than just two seasons?
CLP: No way Haynes is in trouble. He'll get at least three years, likely four. There will no doubt be some influential alumni calling for his head unless there's a total turnaround this season, but Kent State has never had a quick trigger with its football coaches.
STL: Who should UVa fans be on the lookout for? What are some weaknesses the Flashes will try to exploit?
CLP: I sat through the Miami RedHawks' 0-12 season last year and saw punter Zac Murphy pick up all-American votes. Kent State's Anthony Melchiori was just as good, and he's back this year. If this were an even matchup between two teams that could come down to field position, I'd say the punting game would be a decided advantage for the Flashes. As it happens, the punting game still is a decided advantage for the Flashes; it's just that it's an advantage that will prove irrelevant.
STL: End of the day, who ya got?
CLP: Virginia, 35-10 or so.