Alex Alvarado, Editor-in-Chief over at MAC-focused SBNation blog Hustle Belt, graciously took some time to answer some question I had about the upcoming matchup between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Kent State Golden Flashes. Here is a summary of our correspondence:
TDG: I see the first two games of the season were a bit of a mixed bag for the Golden Flashes, whether because the level of competition or an actual change in the quality of play by Kent State. What are the aspirations for the 2015 season for this squad?
Hustle Belt: I think the big loss against Illinois, as disgusting as it was, doesn't diminish the fact that their goal is still to be the champions of their division. This is the third year under head coach Paul Haynes and they're still trying to put the pieces all together. Before the season started, there were arguments to say that this team could be surprisingly really good or they could be the typical Kent State team that ends up being cupcake on your schedule. Even if they ran out of Minneapolis with a win, it's still an uphill battle the rest of the way.
TDG: Minnesota is generally determined to establish the running game and grind opposing defenses down over the course of four quarters. So far they haven't quite been able to implement their preferred formula for success as effectively as past seasons. Do you believe the Golden Flashes are capable of slowing down the Gophers on the ground and if so, who will lead the charge?
HB: The validity of the first two games are really up in the air having faced Illinois and Delaware State, but the Flashes are currently tops of the MAC in run defense allowing only 48 yards per game. Two players on the defensive line worth mentioning: Nathan Terhune and Jontey Byrd. Byrd's a sophomore, so there's still a lot that we'll have to learn about him. But Terhune's a lot of fun: he'll get in the backfield, he'll make plays on special teams, he'll cause and recover some fumbles, he'll do just about anything.
TDG: Minnesota has aspirations of being crowned Big Ten West champions this year. Ohio State is pretty much a presumptive favorite in the Big Ten East (although Michigan State might have something to say about that before all is said and done). Who are the favorites in the MAC East and West this year?
HB: Well above Kent State in the East is Bowling Green. With Matt Johnson leading the offense like he has been doing, it's hard for me to see anybody else stopping him. People like to pick Akron, Ohio and UMass to win the East too, but I'm just not seeing it. As for the West, it's Northern Illinois' division until somebody else takes it from them. But my pick to win the West back in February was Toledo and I haven't backed down from that. And with their win over Arkansas, I'm starting to look like a genius now (okay not really, but really).
TDG: Any possible professional prospects on the Kent State roster we should keep our eyes on during the contest on Saturday?
HB: Aside from Terhune, Nate Holley's probably getting some attention from NFL scouts. Last year, Holley was third in the nation with 12.5 tackles per game and sixth with 6.8 solo tackles. So far, he's already recorded nine tackles as a safety, two for loss, an interception, a pass breakup and a sack. The guy is just an extraordinary talent to have for the Kent State defense.
TDG: Are there any specific players on Kent State's offense that the Gopher defense should be ready to key in on that would greatly aide them in slowing down the Flashes' scoring efforts?
HB: Well one thing that's shot themselves in the foot last year was their quarterback play. I think Colin Reardon can make use of his surrounding skilled positions, but he needs to be accurate and efficient. He was a poor passer with three picks against Illinois and lost by 49. He cleaned up and three three touchdowns instead the following week and they got a big win at home. If he can make friends with freshman Antwan Dixon and sophomore Kris White, then the offense will do just fine.
TDG: Finally, how do you see this game playing out? Final score prediction?
HB: I'm really unsure about Kent State right now. If they can establish a good run game, then they'll have a shot at beating Minnesota. Their lack of star power worries me more than it should, but I think it's time for Traiyon Durham to establish that he is still as good as he was back when Dri Archer was in the picture. I'll say Minnesota's going to win 24-17.
- I forgot to ask Alex about April Goss, just the second female in NCAA FBS history to record a point. She is a place kicker on the Kent State roster. Just something to take note of and watch. Pretty cool story found here.
- An outsiders perspective of the Gophers is always interesting, but it appears we are still not winning any beauty contests to outsiders regardless of how challenging the first two games were from an opponent and situation aspect. Predicting a 7-point Minnesota victory is...ouch. I'm generally not one to care about these types of things but the national opinion of our squad right now must be pretty darned low. It kind of made me sad.