In the next three weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2015 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. Next up is the Gopher's first of two straight non-conference games against teams from the MAC, the Kent State Golden Flashes.
Location: Kent, Ohio
Conference: Mid-American Conference
Notable Alumni: Ben Curtis (Golf), Julien Edelman (NFL), Matt Guerrier (MLB), Arsenio Hall (TV), Lou Holtz (yes that one), Jack Lambert (NFL), Bob Lewis (Devo), Thurman Munson (MLB), Gary Pinkel (Missou Coach), Steve Stone (Baseball Announcer), Dolph Ziggler (WWE)
SB Nation Blog: Hustle Belt (Entire MAC)
Bill Connelly Preview: Here!
Kent State did not have a good 2014. After losing Darell Hazel to Purdue after the 2013 season, Kent State tried to regroup under new coach Paul Haynes and failed miserably. Dealing with injuries, and the death of their starting center in the middle of the season due to an enlarged heart, the Golden Flashes struggled to a 2-9 finish going just 1-7 in the MAC. One of those losses was a 66-0 pasting to eventual natural champion Ohio State.....hey Kent State has something in common with Wisconsin!
Bill C's Wisdom & Statistical Wizardry
Kent State does not lose much from a 2-9 team, so that's the good news. The Golden Flashes will be without their top two pass catchers from 2014 in tight end Casey Pierce and wide receiver Chris Humphrey who combined for over 100 catches and nearly 1,300 yards. Right tackle Terrell Johnson and his 23 career starts have graduated, but he is the only loss on the offensive line.
Defensively, the Golden Flashes lose even less. The only defensive starter who is no longer with the team is defensive lineman Richard Grey. He is not a huge loss after only recording 22 tackles and only two for a loss in 2014. However after a defense that was one of the 10 worst in the nation in both sack and stuff rate, they better hope the returners have improved greatly.
Scouting The Enemy
Kent State returns 19 starters, so this is a fairly long list. Colin Reardon is back for his junior year at quarterback, and will need to improve on his 2014 season which saw him throw for 2,466 yards, but with only 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He will now be coached by former Michigan State OC, and former Miami, OH head coach Don Treadwell who is now the Golden Flashes OC. The Golden Flashes will get Trayion Durham back at running back after he missed the 2014 season with an injury. He ran for 766 yards and 6 TDs and Dri Archers backup in 2013. Nick Holley the leading rusher in 2014 with just over 500 yards and 3 TDs also returns. Four of five O-line starters return with 45 career starts, so some experience, but not a ton.
On defense Kent State returns 10 of 11 starters. Three of their four starting D-lineman return in Jon Cunningham, Terence Waugh and Nate Terhune. However, the three only combined for 75 tackles with 12.5 for loss. Kent State returns all its linebackers from 2014, and also will get a boost with the return of Devante' Strickland who missed the 2014 season with a injury. Matt Delenger led the LB corps a year ago with 63 tackles, but only had 3 for loss. Bill C seems to think this might be the best LB group in the MAC...guess we will see. The Golden Flashes return their top five secondary members from a year ago and are led by safeties Nate Holley and Jordan Italiano. Holley led the team with 106 tackles, and Italiano led the team with 3 interceptions. Anthony Melichori is both the kicker and punter for the Golden Flashes but will need to improve on a 2014 season that saw him go 16-18 on PATs and just 10-18 on field goals.
One of the major questions marks for the Golden Flashed will be their depth. They return 19 starters from a year ago, but after that.....it drops off in a hurry. If they catch the injury bug again, or run into strong powerful teams with more depth like the two Big Ten teams on their schedule in Illinois and Minnesota, bad things could happen.
Another question will be the play of Reardon at quarterback. Having more interceptions that touchdowns is never a good sign, and losing your top two targets won't help him get of to a fast start in 2015.
The Golden Flashes will not get any gifts with their schedule with non-conference games at Illinois and Minnesota and a road conference tilt at Marshall in their first four games. A 1-3 start would not be out of the picture, but will Kent State have the mental toughness to battle back and try and sneak out bowl eligibility.
The Enemy's View of Us
What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?
The Gophers will return home to TCF and should see this as a game they should dominate. The Golden Flashes do not have the depth the Gophers have, and don't have the defensive firepower to stop the Gophers running game. If the Gophers can establish the run early, they should be able to take early control and run their way to an easy victory. The Golden Flashes opening game at Illinois should give us an idea of where they stand. If Illinois can easily win, then the Gophers really should not make this a game.
Defensively, the Gophers should be licking their chops. A subpar passing game against the Minnesota secondary should mean free reign for the Gopher secondary to take a few risks and see if they can't get a Pick 6 or two. If Kent State can't establish the running game, which hopefully the Gophers can shut down with good push from Steven Richardson and the linebackers, the Gophers should be in good shape.
The Gophers should not come into this game too over confident, but this should be their easiest non-conference and potentially easiest overall game of the season. Minnesota is bigger, stronger, faster and deeper than the Golden Flashes. Kent State will be improved from 2014, but should still be a middle of the pack MAC team that a Big Ten team at home should take to task. Establish the running game, hit on a couple of nice play-action passes, and play the defense you are capable of, and there is not reason the Gophers should not pull away by halftime and get their subs some quality playing time in the fourth quarter in this one. I'll go 37-21 with two late garbage time TDs for the Golden Flashes.