KENT: It shouldn’t have taken a 35-24 scare against the University of Akron on Saturday to convince the Kent State coaching staff what it must do to win.
“On Archer, On Durham,” should be the Golden Flashes’ strategy in the final three regular-season games and beyond, assuming there is a beyond.
In the presumed mismatch, Kent State coach Darrell Hazell’s misguided decision to throw on the first eight plays to “do something a little bit different to keep them off-balance” allowed UA to jump out to a 14-0 lead and could have cost the Flashes the game.
Actually, KSU threw seven times and ran the ball once on its first two possessions, but it stalled on third downs at the UA 36- and 30-yard lines.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping an opponent off-balance. But Hazell’s now-8-1 Flashes were facing a now-1-9 Zips team that lacks muscle up front and depth everywhere. It would be an admirable strategy at Miami, at Bowling Green or in the finale at home against Ohio.
Not to mention the fact that the Golden Flashes’ defense hasn’t fared well in matchups against spread offenses this season (check the highlights of the lone loss at Kentucky for verification). KSU’s lack of execution in the pass-first first quarter gave the Zips life and UA’s no-huddle spread, aka “Bowdenball,” more chances.
It wasn’t until the start of the second quarter that Hazell quashed the aerial assault in favor of his dangerous thunder-and-lightning tandem. He finally called on his two key offensive players — Darren Sproles-clone Dri Archer and big-bodied Jerome Bettis-like bruiser Trayion Durham.
There might be better running backs in the Mid-American Conference. But no school in the league has the combination of speed and power that Kent State boasts in Archer and Durham.
“Lightning” Archer finished with 126 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. He had four plays of 20 or more yards — runs of 44, 37 and 30 yards (a reverse for a touchdown) and a 20-yard reception. That gave him 28 plays of 20 or more yards this season.
Archer, a junior from Laurel, Fla., has touched the ball 136 times rushing, receiving and on returns and 50 of those have gone for at least 10 yards. Archer boosted his single-season touchdown total to 16, two behind co-leaders Larry Poole (1973) and Eugene Baker “The Touchdown Maker” in 1997.
“Thunder” Durham contributed 107 yards on 24 attempts and three touchdowns. He accounted for 28 yards on KSU’s final possession, sealing the victory with a 15-yard score with 38 seconds remaining.
In the past six games, Durham, a sophomore from Cincinnati Colerain, is averaging 105.7 yards per game and has scored 10 touchdowns. Last weekend he literally carried the Flashes to victory at No. 18 Rutgers with a career-high 131 yards.
Durham also converted two crucial fourth-and-1 plays — gaining 6 yards on the first and scoring a 15-yard touchdown on the other.
Hazell joked that those were the only two fourth-down calls on the play sheet.
“We’ll just keep running them over and over until they stop us,” Hazell said.
That should have been the plan all along, even on the first eight plays.
After nine games, the Golden Flashes have found themselves — “They’ve got a very patient offense and an opportunistic defense,” UA coach Terry Bowden said, boiling it down perfectly. But Hazell seems to be fighting that identity because it makes his offense sound too predictable.
“That’s their game plan,” Bowden said of the Golden Flashes’ running attack. “We kind of solved 34 [Durham] until we over-solved it, and he just walked in on the outside. If you’re going to stop it you’ve got to play in the gaps.
“One [Archer], we never solved him too much. He had too much speed. You can’t solve speed. You can gang up on a big guy maybe and slow him down. But you can’t solve speed if you don’t got it. He was always one step ahead of us.”
Both Archer and Durham are on pace for 1,000 rushing yards. Archer is already on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award that goes to the nation’s best running back, and Durham could join him this week. That level of recognition should help boost Kent State’s program, bidding for its first bowl invitation since 1972.
Hazell surely had a method to his first-quarter madness against the Zips. He wants opponents to respect the pass and not constantly stack the line of scrimmage. He wants to boost the confidence of senior quarterback Spencer Keith. He wants to defy the notion that the Flashes are one-dimensional.
That they are not. Keith can pick apart an opponent when called on, like his 295-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ball State showed.
But on Saturday against the Zips at Dix Stadium, Hazell was guilty of overthinking.
When KSU’s version of Thunder and Lightning is all the Golden Flashes need to dominate, Hazell should unleash the storm.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.