KENT: Some folks think today’s 11 a.m. game against visiting Ohio is a trap game for Kent State, setting the stage for a letdown after the Golden Flashes wrapped up the Mid-American Conference East title in dramatic fashion last week at Bowling Green.
But coach Darrell Hazell, his staff and players firmly believe otherwise.
The folks who see little reason for the No. 23-ranked Golden Flashes (10-1 overall, 7-0 in the MAC) to be pumped up for what’s considered a meaningless regular-season finale against the slumping Bobcats (8-3, 4-3) are missing the point.
Today’s game, televised on ESPNU, is all about pride and closing out a dream regular season on a positive note.
A Flashes victory would mark the first MAC East Division team to go 8-0 in league play since Miami accomplished the feat in 2003. A win would contribute to the program’s first 10-game winning streak.
A victory would help pad Kent State’s bowl resume and continue to raise the profile of Hazell, who in just his second season in Kent is making it very tough for the university to fight off bigger, albeit struggling programs, like Tennessee — in search of the nation’s next up-and-coming young coaching mind.
All those reasons are why the Flashes will take this game seriously, even with the big matchup — next week’s MAC Championship game against West Division champion Northern Illinois — on the horizon Nov. 30 in Detroit.
Just how serious are the Flashes about today’s game? Consider that when asked Monday about the availability of some of his players dealing with nagging injuries such as bruising running back Trayion Durham (quad, hip), Hazell was adamant all hands would be on deck today at Dix Stadium for Senior Day.
When pressed further if it made more sense to rest Durham and let him get healthy for next week’s title game, Hazell looked the questioner right in the eye and dead panned: “We’re going to do everything we can to win this football game.
“This game is like every other game on our schedule — we owe it to our seniors who are going to take their last step in Dix Stadium,’’ Hazell said. ‘‘We’re all competitors, so we’re going to play every single contest as hard as we can to win the game. That’s been our mindset all season, and it remains the mind set we have now.”
Defensive lineman Nate Terhune and junior do-it-all Dri Archer will play for a victory today for their fellow upperclass teammates.
“Most of these [seniors] are guys I came in with and I’ve built a strong relationship with them,” Archer said. “I would do anything just to win this game for them.”
Said Terhune: “For Dana Brown and Jake Dooley — the seniors on the defensive line — it means a lot to them. I’m going to try everything I can to make sure we leave [today] with a win.”
For the Bobcats, who have lost their last three games in large part to a plethora of injuries to key players, all that’s left for them to play for is the spoiler role.
“When you lose as many guys as they’ve lost throughout the course of the season — I mean, when you take eight guys off your roster who are starters — you’ve got some issues,” Hazell said. “It’s hard to battle through those situations.”
Still, Hazell points to the Bobcats’ resilience in being able to win eight games, starting the season with seven consecutive wins before the injuries came in bunches.
“Ohio’s lost three games in the MAC, but it’s still a good football team,” he said. “We know they’re very dangerous. They have good players — their quarterback [Tyler Tettleton] is an excellent player who keeps the ball alive, their running back [Beau Blankenship] is a good player who can break tackles.”
Tettleton continues his rise on the Bobcats’ all-time charts, becoming Ohio’s all-time leader in completions with 22 last week at Ball State. Two weeks earlier, he became the program’s all-time passing leader against Bowling Green. He enters today’s game with 2,281 yards and 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Blankenship has rushed for 11 touchdowns and 1,355 yards — 80 yards shy of becoming the school’s all-time single-season rusher.
Defensively, the Bobcats are a bit vanilla, but Hazell said they’re solid and won’t beat themselves.
“They play a lot of even coverage in the back end — cover four,” Hazell said. “Then in throwing situations, they play a lot of cover one. They’re not a big blitzing team. Coach [Frank] Solich’s personality is pretty conservative — be well coached, try not to beat yourself. So I think it’s going to be somewhat of a generic defense that we see.”
Regardless of Ohio’s injuries and recent struggles, this Flashes team won’t look past a Bobcats team looking to knock off a ranked opponent for the first time in 16 program tries.
“We’re just going to prepare like usual and focus on Ohio, nothing else matters (today), just OU,” Archer said.
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://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.