One week fed to the Tigers, the next week thrown to the Lions.
Such is life these days for members of the Kent State football team (1-2) as they prepare to face perennial Big Ten power Penn State (2-1) on Saturday in Happy Valley, just seven days after suffering a 45-13 loss at No. 8 LSU. Some day the $1.8 million KSU's athletic department pockets for making these back-to-back trips into two of the toughest venues in college football may make it all seem worthwhile.
But right now, it's tough.
Last year's record-setting 11-win campaign seems like ancient history as the Golden Flashes slog their way through the most difficult early season schedule in program history, which also featured a Mid-American Conference matchup with highly regarded Bowling Green in Week 2.
Now injuries are piling up as Kent State attempts to keep hope alive heading into the MAC season, which restarts with a Sept. 28 matchup at Western Michigan.
Hey, coach Paul Haynes, are you ready to spend a couple minutes alone in a dark room with those evil individuals who compiled your team's 2013 schedule?
"We knew for a long time we had to get prepared for this. It is what it is. You can't control the schedule," said Haynes. "To go into these big venues and be able to play against the so-called bigger schools, our guys look forward to that all the time. It's gonna be a great environment (at Penn State), gonna be a great challenge. But it's gonna be fun for us, too."
Crying and complaining about the schedule is indeed a waste of time. Taking advantage of an opportunity to grow and improve by facing a formidable Big Ten foe -- and possibly springing an upset in the process -- is what the Flashes are focused on as they prepare to visit Penn State for the second time in the past four years.
"It's fun to go play in these types of games. It's just an exciting environment," said star KSU sophomore punter/kicker Anthony Melchiori, a former Aurora High School standout. "I think it helps the team overall to play competition like that, and if the stars align it can happen, we can beat those types of teams. You just saw Akron and Michigan (last) Saturday. We need to bring that into our own mentality, go into this game thinking and having the mindset that we can go out and beat these teams."
While beating LSU last Saturday was a long-shot to say the least, knocking off Penn State is doable. In fact, it's been done by a team comparable to the Flashes as recently as last week, when UCF upset the Nittany Lions 34-31 at Beaver Stadium. Last year, Ohio knocked off Penn State 24-14 in the season opener, and no one was really all that surprised.
But while UCF and Ohio entered those games poised to snag the upset, Kent State is currently struggling.
The Flashes' banged-up defense is surrendering over 456 yards and 32 points per game, and has not forced a turnover this season. To make matters worse, starting strong safety Luke Wollet -- the team's leading tackler -- will probably not play because of shoulder and knee injuries, and starting nose tackle Nate Terhune is likely out for the season after suffering a broken leg at LSU.
Offensively, injuries to senior speedster Dri Archer (ankle) and senior left guard Pat McShane (knee) have made it tough for Kent State to run the football. After rushing for over 225 yards per game a year ago, the Flashes are averaging only 121 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry on the ground this season. Both McShane and Archer are doubtful for Saturday's game.
These struggles and injuries have made proving last season's stunning success wasn't a fluke difficult for Kent State thus far in 2013. Still, the collective will of the players has not been broken.
"I think we have put last year behind us. This is a new year, a new team," said Melchiori. "It's been a little bit of a rocky start, obviously, but we stay strong, we're a strong mental football team. We know we have to fight and keep grinding regardless of what happens, just take it week by week and keep working to get where we want to be. I know we will get there as a football team. We will come together and we will be a good football team this year."
A strong showing at Penn State could indeed serve as a springboard into the MAC season. And to pull it off, the Flashes will have to play strong, according to Haynes.
"Penn State is Penn State. I don't care who the head coach is," said Haynes. "Penn State's gonna be a physical football team, Penn State's gonna establish the run. They're gonna be physical and play Penn State football, and we have to make sure that we show up and be physical with them and match their intensity and emotion and passion to win."
Competing against Penn State will require a team effort by the undermanned Flashes, who are attempting to use the difficult schedule and adversity they've faced early in the 2013 campaign as bonding forces.
"Every game we go in with the same mentality, keep fighting til they tell us to go home," said junior wide receiver Chris Humphrey. "I don't really think about last year, but this year our state of mind right now is focused on just getting everyone together, on the same page. We have a lot of freshmen playing roles on the team this year, and we're getting them all together and comfortable with the speed of the game, and playing fast. I definitely think we're coming together."
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