KENT: Six-foot, 250-pound bruiser Trayion Durham might very well be Kent State’s featured back.
But it was 5-foot-8, 175-pound speedster Dri Archer who led the Golden Flashes to a fast start in Thursday’s 41-21 season-opening blowout victory over Towson at Dix Stadium.
Earlier in the week, KSU coach Darrell Hazell shared that he mandated Archer (a junior who sat out last season for academic reasons) to get 12 to 15 touches in the backfield, hoping to take advantage of his speed.
“He’s different,” Hazell said of Archer. “He’s a different guy with the ball in his hands — we knew that. Like I’ve said before, you’re angles better be awful steep when he’s got the ball because he doesn’t look like he’s running. He does so many different things for you, score in so many ways, that’s why he’s such a good weapon for us.”
As soon as Archer returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to set up KSU’s first touchdown, it was obvious why Hazell was so adamant Archer didn’t get lost in a deep group of running backs. Archer’s opening flash was a warm-up sprint.
Archer, who amassed 217 all-purpose yards in the first three quarters, added touchdown runs of 15 and 18 yards sandwiched around another return — a 98-yarder that showcased his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash.
“There was a hole there every time,” Archer said, noting he went untouched on the 98-yard return. “The players up front did a great job blocking for me.”
With his three touchdowns, Archer became the first KSU player to score three times in game since quarterback Julian Edelman (now in the NFL with the New England Patriots) did it in 2008.
Archer’s play was only part of the impressive display the Flashes put on for a crowd of 15,121.
The Flashes’ defense had four sacks and, coupled with special teams, forced six turnovers — four fumbles and two interceptions.
“On film I saw that they do a lot of comebacks,” said senior cornerback and Akron native Norman Wolfe, who forced one of the first-quarter fumbles and intercepted a pass in the second quarter. “When the quarterback scrambles, he always does an inside route and I kind of bit on it [for the interception], kept my eyes on the quarterback and just went for it.”
KSU’s defense made its presence felt on Towson’s first offensive possession. Junior tackle Roosevelt Nix came up with a tackle for loss and Wolfe forced a fumble on the next play that was recovered by Jake Dooley.
Four plays later, Archer’s 15-yard run gave KSU a 14-0 lead. When Towson fumbled on its next kick-return attempt, Flashes kicker Freddy Cortez made it 17-0 with a 35-yard field goal with 4:28 to go in the first quarter.
“Towson has a lot of good players that can hurt you, but our defense did a good job containing them,” Hazell said.
Towson running back Terrance West scored on an 8-yard run with 1:51 left in the first half to make it 17-7.
But there was no need for KSU to consider running its two-minute drill before the half. Archer’s kickoff return made it 24-7.
After the defense came up with its third turnover, the Flashes couldn’t take advantage and set up to punt. Despite a high snap, freshman punter Anthony Melchiori managed to get a good kick off. But in a strange twist, the ball hit a Towson player and was recovered by KSU’s Andre Parker, who advanced it 50 yards going the wrong way. Fortunately for the Flashes, the play was ruled illegal because a muffed punt cannot be advanced.
“I know the rule, but it happened so fast, I didn’t know it happened at first,” said Hazell, who only realized it when the coaches in the booth began yelling “Wrong way! He’s running the wrong way!” into his headset. “Then, once I saw him, I was just hoping one of our players would tackle him.”
The Flashes’ defense created another turnover just before the fourth quarter, when linebacker C.J. Malauulu tipped Towson quarterback Grant Enders’ pass and it was intercepted by safety Luke Wollet.
With KSU ahead 34-7, backup quarterback David Fisher took over for starter Spencer Keith as the fourth quarter began. On his first Division I pass attempt, Fisher connected with receiver Josh Boyle for a 63-yard touchdown.
With a majority of KSU’s starters sitting out the final quarter, Towson tacked on two late touchdowns.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.