KENT: Kent State goes into today’s game at Northern Illinois hoping to tame the big-play capability of Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish and generate a little offense of its own.
Led by Harnish, the Huskies (2-3, 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference) have scored 41 or more points in four of five games this season. They amassed 587 yards of offense last week in a loss to Central Michigan.
Averaging 467.6 yards per game, Northern Illinois has scored points on 23-of-24 trips into the red zone this season, including 18 touchdowns. The Huskies have come out strong in each game, averaging 21.4 points in the first half and 25.6 first downs per game.
It all starts with Harnish. Named to the Davey O’Brien watch list for the top quarterback in the country, the senior has 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions. He is averaging 246.2 passing yards per game.
“He’s got a great arm with very good accuracy,” Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said. “He’s got some weapons on the outside and he can move around well in the pocket and pulls it down.
“You can spend hours and hours in the staff room and try to prepare for things, but you can’t account for the quarterback that pulls it down in an undesigned run play. So he’s a very dangerous weapon.”
The Flashes’ defense ranks among the better units in the league and is well versed in how to go about limiting Harnish’s big-play ability.
“Defensively, I think we need to put some pressure on him, give him some mixed-up looks and confuse him a little bit,” said Hazell, whose defense held Ohio and its standout sophomore quarterback Tyler Tettleton in check in a 17-10 loss to the Bobcats in the MAC opener last week in Athens.
The Huskies, however, have struggled on defense. Without nine members from the 2010 MAC West Championship team, the Huskies’ defense could provide the perfect scenario for the Flashes to finally get rolling on offense.
“I would hope so,” Hazell said. “But we need to find that guy on our offense. We haven’t found that guy yet to make those plays on the perimeter. I think our backs are coming along, but I’d still like to see them run a little harder. But we need to find a [receiver] on the outside who can make some plays when he’s covered.”
KSU junior quarterback Spencer Keith has had a tough season but the Flashes could get a lift today. His academic issues cleared up, redshirt freshman quarterback Cedric McCloud was reinstated by the NCAA and could be called upon if Keith’s struggles continue. Keith threw three interceptions last week and now has six against three touchdown passes.
Although he said earlier in the week that McCloud is probably physically ready to step in despite missing the first four games, “mentally, I’m not so sure,” Hazell said.
Regardless of what the Flashes do at quarterback, history has not been on Kent State’s side at Northern Illinois. The Flashes (1-4, 0-1) have lost nine a row at Huskie Stadium, last winning there in 1966.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.