Philadelphia, PA -- 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Kent State struggled at first last year, but delivered a strong performance down the stretch to arrive at a 5-7 overall record for the third consecutive season.
Darrell Hazel was a late bloomer in his first season as a head coach. KSU was dismantled by Alabama (48-7) in his debut before it lost to Louisiana (20-12) at home. The Golden Flashes also suffered losses to Kansas State (37-0), Ohio University (17-10), Northern Illinois (40-10), and Miami-Ohio (9-3) before a much needed bye week allowed them to regain their composure. KSU bounced back and drew some attention with consecutive victories over Bowling Green (27-15), Central Michigan (24-21), Akron (35-3), and Eastern Michigan (28-22). The Golden Flashes had their streak snapped by Temple (34-16) in their season finale, but not before Hazel's team started believing in itself.
KSU once again watched bowl season from home. The Golden Flashes have not played in a bowl game since the 1972 Tangerine Bowl.
OFFENSE: Kent State's offense was one of the worst in the nation in 2011. The Golden Flashes finished 119th in yards per game (253.5) and 114th in scoring (17.1).
Senior QB Spencer Keith (1,682 yards, 11 TDs, eight INTs) has been the starter for the majority of his career, but that could change before his final season. Junior transfer David Fisher is challenging Keith for the starting job. Fisher began his career at Nevada before playing a season at Palomar Community College last year. True freshman Colin Reardon is also in the discussion.
Tailback Trayion Durham (6-0, 247) became KSU's workhorse unexpectedly last season after Dri Archer (5-8, 164) was forced to sit out for academic reasons. The combination of Durham's punishing running style and Archer's lighting fast quickness gives the Golden Flashes' ground attack versatility it simply did not possess in 2011. The running backs should find more success on the ground this season with four of five starters returning to the offensive line.
KSU has a talented wideout in Tyshon Goode returning to the lineup. Goode finished last season with disappointing totals of 316 yards and 24 catches after earning a second-team All-MAC selection in 2010. Goode's fellow senior classmates Matt Hurdle and Eric Adeyemi will be involved in the aerial attack as well. Tim Erjavec (6-2, 232) will be the primary tight end targeted by whichever quarterback ends up being named the starter.
DEFENSE: The Golden Flashes' defensive unit was easily the strength of the team last season. KSU ranked in the top three in the MAC in nearly every defensive category in 2011. Tackle Roosevelt Nix makes a big time impact as a pass rusher. Nix recorded 10 sacks and 15 solo tackles for loss as a freshman. He was still an effective player last season as a sophomore despite dealing with double teams and injuries. Nix's impact opens up pass rushing lanes for DE Jake Dooley.
"Very excited about our defense. It all starts with Rosie Nix. In my opinion, he is one of the best guys in the country," said coach Hazel. "He gets on the hips of offensive linemen and has a way of reading defensive schemes."
Linebacker C.J. Malauulu is a big time playmaker from sideline to sideline. He earned Second-Team All-MAC honors after recording 3.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 83 tackles. Senior Luke Batton led KSU with 102 tackles from the middle linebacker position. The secondary helped the Golden Flashes limit opponents to 196.3 passing yards per game last season, which was the 26th lowest average in the country. Both Luke Wollet and Calvin Tiggle are back to man their respective starting safety positions while fifth-year senior Sidney Saulter returns at corner after grabbing three interceptions last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Despite five missed PATs in 2011, senior Freddy Cortez has proven to be a reliable placekicker throughout the first three years of his career. Punter Andrew Horning will make his debut this season as he tries to replace Matt Rinehart's 42.8 yards per punt average.
OUTLOOK: The talented KSU defensive unit will need help from the other side of the ball. Hazel's team is returning 18 starters from the team that put together a very impressive finish to the 2011 season.
The team's non-conference schedule seems more manageable than last year.
KSU opens up its season at Dix Stadium with Towson before consecutive road games at Kentucky and Buffalo. The Golden Flashes will step out of MAC competition to play Army on October 13 and Rutgers on October 27. KSU does not have to face Northern Illinois or Toledo during the regular season. The Golden Flashes might run into trouble in the final stage of their schedule as they have to play Miami-Ohio and Bowling Green on the road before facing the reigning East Division Champion Ohio University Bobcats to end the year.
While Kent State appears to have improved on both sides of the ball, Hazel will not have his squad competing for the MAC title just yet. Still, the bowl game drought may come to an end if a leader emerges for the offense.
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