By Allen Moff | Staff writer
Similarities between the two combatants in today’s Kent State-Bowling Green showdown are virtually endless.
From the team-first attitude that got them here, to their toughness in the trenches, to their dominance on special teams, the formula for success implemented by both the Golden Flashes and Falcons during their stunningly successful 2012 campaigns is almost identical.
Golden Flashes head coach Darrell Hazell even said analyzing Bowling Green “is a little bit like looking in the mirror.”
“These are two good football teams playing against each other that look very similar when you watch them on film,” said Hazell.
The Falcons have earned six straight victories thanks to a dominant defense that’s allowed a paltry 7.8 points per game during that stretch, a run-based offense that milks the clock and makes few mistakes, and special teams that have produced huge plays.
Meanwhile, the 25th-ranked Flashes (9-1, 6-0 MAC) roll into Bowling Green (7-3, 5-1) riding a school-record eight-game winning streak. While not as dominating as the Falcons statistically, Kent State’s defense has stood tall in the clutch mostly by forcing turnovers — 30 on the season, which paves the way for KSU’s nation-leading plus-20 turnover ratio. The Flashes also feature the run offensively, and have been solid or spectacular in every facet of special teams throughout the season.
“It’s strength on strength,” said Falcons coach Dave Clawson, summing it up perfectly.
Both teams are monsters in the trenches, which creates a slew of intriguing matchups.
Kent State’s offensive line, anchored by senior left tackle Brian Winters and senior left guard Josh Kline, has cleared running paths for a rushing attack producing over 235 yards per game, while allowing only two sacks in the past six contests. The Flashes have two 1,000-yard rushers in sophomore bruiser Trayion Durham (210 carries for 1,059 yards, 13 TDs, 5.0 ypc) and junior blazer Dri Archer (108-1,042, 12 TDs, 9.7 ypc), along with a steady senior quarterback in Spencer Keith (133-of-227, 1,413 yards, 9 TDs).
“Their offensive production really starts with the line,” said Clawson. “Winters might be the best offensive lineman in the conference. He has great feet, he’s physical, and he finishes blocks. The whole left side is awesome. They’ve blocked some very, very good people this year. It’s a really impressive group.”
The unit will face a staunch Bowling Green defense that leads the MAC in virtually every category: Total defense (285.4 ypg), scoring defense (15.1 ppg), rushing defense (103.7 ypg), pass defense (181.7), pass-efficiency defense and sacks (29).
The BG defense is led by soon-to-be MAC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Jones, a 6-foot-1, 293-pound senior tackle that has amassed 171⁄2 tackles for loss, 111⁄2 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
On the flipside, Kent State’s defensive line will face a Bowling Green offensive line that’s allowed just 12 sacks all season, while creating nice holes for 5-11, 188-pound sophomore RB Anthon Samuel (906 yard, 10 TDs).
Junior quarterback Matt Schilz has been extremely efficient — much like KSU’s Keith — limiting his mistakes (6 INTs), while throwing for 1,843 yards and 10 scores.
Overall, the Flashes’ ever-opportunistic defense will face a Falcons offense that has committed just 11 turnovers on the season.
“They do a good job with (Schilz) getting it out of his hands very fast, dropping it off in swings and bubbles,” said Hazell. “He’s a good player who he can keep the ball alive. (Samuel) came alive I thought in the Ohio game (a 26-14 victory on Nov. 7) and made some huge plays. He’s a very strong, physical runner.”
Samuel rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns, while Bowling Green’s punt block unit produced four huge plays that led to 19 points in that victory over the Bobcats.
Similarities between the two teams carry into the locker room and off the field as well.
Both coaches have continually raved about the team-first attitude and mature work ethic displayed by their respective squads throughout the season, factors that have led directly to shockingly abrupt turnarounds by both programs. Both the Flashes and Falcons finished 5-7 last year, and were not predicted to do much better in 2012.
Today, they’ll clash in what amounts to a winner-take-all showdown for the MAC East title and a spot against West Division champion Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. Kent State can clinch the East crown with a victory, while the Falcons can secure the title with wins today and against Buffalo on Nov. 23 in Columbus.
“I think we have great players, and they have great players. They’re gonna make their plays and we’re gonna make our plays,” said Hazell. “The team that makes the least mistakes, doesn’t turn it over, and has the greatest will in the fourth quarter is probably gonna win this football game.
“In my opinion, this game will come down to the team that has the greatest will in the fourth quarter. And the will of this football team that’s in our locker room is pretty good.”