A year ago, the Kent State football team had just improved to 9-1 and 6-0 in the Mid-American Conference with a win over host Miami, cracking the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Much has changed for both the Golden Flashes and the RedHawks as the teams prepare to meet tonight at 8 at Dix Stadium in the final home game for KSU in a disappointing 2013 season.
After the program’s most successful season in four decades under coach Darrell Hazell, the Flashes have struggled with injuries and inconsistency under first-year coach Paul Haynes. Kent State (2-8, 1-5 MAC) enters tonight’s Senior Night game on ESPNU looking to snap a five-game losing streak with the aid of a bye week to regroup.
But for as tough of a season as KSU is having, it’s been an even rougher road for Miami. On Oct. 6, coach Don Treadwell and offensive coordinator John Klacik were fired following the RedHawks’ 0-5 start.
“I have decided to make a change in our football leadership now in hopes of seeing improved performance for the rest of the season,” Miami Athletic director David Sayler said upon announcing the news.
Saylor then tabbed quarterbacks coach Mike Bath, who has been with the RedHawks for the past decade as either a player or coach, as the team’s interim coach for the remainder of the season.
But the losing has continued. The RedHawks (0-9, 0-5) are in last place, right behind KSU, in the MAC East Division.
In a 45-3 loss to Bowling Green last week, Miami was hurt by three fumbles.
“This program is going to be rebuilt by being disciplined and being tough and part of that is holding on to the football,” Bath said during the MAC’s weekly coaches teleconference. “We were not disciplined the last game, so we’ve made it a major point heading into this game against Kent State.”
As for Kent State, which is dealing with injuries to key players and a relatively young offensive line trying to protect a freshman quarterback, the biggest thing has been trying to get into a mid-week game routine. In addition to tonight’s game, the final game will be Tuesday at Ohio.
“I’m on the fence with these mid-week games,” Haynes said on his weekly radio show segment. “The hard part is when you haven’t done it all season. We went nine weeks straight playing on Saturday and now we’ve got two games in 10 days [in the middle of the week]. … Right now, we’re all screwed up with our days. Monday was actually our Thursday for us. You start calculating the days and you really don’t know what day it is.”
But now that game day is here, Haynes knows it will be a battle despite the teams’ combined dismal records.
“I’m sure this is a game that [Miami] looks at and thinks ‘this is a game we can win,’ ” Haynes said. “So we know they don’t care what you’re feeling like and that you’re losing. It reminds me of a statement [Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin made recently: ‘Not only do they not care, they’re smiling knowing we’re hurt and beat up.’
“But when I watch Miami on film, I commend their kids for the effort and fight that they continue to have, given all the things that they’ve been though. Change is not easy, especially when you change right in the middle of the season.”
Haynes’ players are finding change not to be very easy themselves, even with it coming at the beginning of the season. But the coach hopes the Flashes will find added incentive tonight with the inevitable emotion of Senior Night festivities.
“We’ve got to send our seniors out the right way,” he said. “This is the last time they’ll be in Dix Stadium in a Kent State uniform. So we have to make sure we do everything possible to send them out with a great memory.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.