8:00 PM EST, ESPN2 – Line: Bowling Green State -13.5
Teams trending towards opposite ends of the spectrum meet tonight in a MAC East Division clash, as the Bowling Green State Falcons play host to the struggling Kent State Golden Flashes. It has indeed been a difficult season thus far for the Kent State (1-8, 0-5 in MAC), who is still in search of their first conference win. In his second season with the program, Paul Haynes has seen his team largely decimated by injuries, making it very difficult for them to even match the total of four wins that they earned in 2013. Offensivley, the Golden Flashes have been downright dreadful, averaging just 13.3 points on 307.8 yards per game. Their biggest issue this far has been their complete inability to get anything going in the running game; this team has managed to churn out a scant 89.3 yards per game on the ground, on just 3.4 yards per carry. Ot’s been an unfortunate situation for Haynes, who saw his top returning rusher of the last two seasons, Traiyon Durham sustain a broken foot in the Summer that has kept him out for the entire season. The Senior Tailback had rushed for 2,712 yards on 4.2 yards/carry) and 24 touchdowns through the first three years of his career, and his absence has been very noticeable.
The ripple effect created by the void of a consistent rushing attack has been significant, leaving the passing game with little support, and the defense as a whole without much opportunity to rest. Sophomore Quarterback Colin Reardon has suffered most from this problem, completing just 55.2% of his passes for 1,884 yards, nine touchdowns and eleven interceptions thus far. Furthermore, he is only netting a mere 5.9 yards per attempt, which is a bi-product of Haynes have to resort to short passes to compensate for the lack of the rush. This was no more evident than in last weekend’s 30-20 loss to MAC West-leading Toledo, where Reardon managed to complete just 10-of-23 passes (43.5%) for only 96 yards and an interception, before finally being pulled in favor of Nathan Strock, who provided a spark going 9-of-18 (50.0%) for 67 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an interception. It remains to be seen who exactly Haynes will start under Center tonight, for Reardon did throw for 194 yards and a pair of scores against the Falcons last year, though it was in a 41-22 defeat. One thing is for certain though, no matter who get the nod, The Golden Flashes must find a way to keep defenses honest with the run. But wait a minute folks, for their may indeed be a light at the end of the tunnel; Kent State has averaged 126.8 rushing yards over the last four games, a huge improvement over the 59.4 hat they mustered through the first five outings. And chances are that they should be able to find some running room tonight for Bowling Green State has yielded 200.3 yards per game on the ground at a rate of 4.8 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, while the Flashes languish at the bottom of the conference, Bowling Green State (6-3, 4-1 in MAC) has had no such problems in ascending to the top of the MAC East Division. In his first season on the sidelines, Dino Babers has managed to do something rather remarkable; the Falcons have been outscored by an average of 0.6 points and therefore outgained by a whopping 78.8 yards per game, yet have still put together a winning record, including a 4-1 mark in conference play. Granted, those are skewed a bit due to blowout losses to the likes of Western Kentucky and Wisconsin, but it still represents a statistical anomaly of sorts. After all, even the turnover differential hasn’t been substantial, as BAbers’ charges have forced just three more turnovers than they have committed. But with that said, the coach still has one of the porous defenses in the country on his hands, and while they have taken steps towards respectability of late, this unit has threatened to undermine the play of the offense on a number of occasions this season.
Bowling Green State has allowed 30.2 points on a terrible 526.2 yards per game, including 325.3 against the pass and another 200.9 against the rush. Opposing Quarterbacks have lit these kids throughout the campaign, meeting little resistance in completing 61.1% of their attempts. But as we hinted at earlier, there have been signs that this group may just be figuring things out; after allowing an almost unfathomable 619.2 yards of offense through the first five games, the Falcons have stood their ground and held three out of their last four opponents under 400 yards (410.0 yards). Part of that is due to some really ugly performances in the early stages of the season, but conference play has clearly helped this unit come together. It’s been a similar situation offensivley, as the gaudy numbers that Babers’ charges posted through the first two months of the season have since give. Way to more modest totals; through the first six outings, the offense generated 501.5 yards, but that number has dwindled to significantly to 339.3 yards over the last three contests. Injuries have played a role here, as Babers’ Openning Day Stater at Quarterback, Matt Johnson suffered a season-ending hip injury towards the climax of the 59-31 loss at Western Kentucky. Sophomore James Knapke has played admirably in his steed, completing 58.3% of his passes for 2,128 yards (6.3 yards/attempt), eleven touchdowns and nine interceptions, while picking up another 137 yards and two scores on 42 carries. Versatile Receiver/Rusher Travis Greene has aided in his teammate’s development, compiling 818 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. However, Greene is listed as Questionable for tonight’s contest after suffering a sprained ankle in last weekend’s 27-10 victory at Akron. Greene was definitely not coming into that contest, averaging 102.5 total yards in pthe previous four games.