When the conference portion of Kent State’s football schedule began three weeks ago, a lot of the focus was on last week’s game at Northern Illinois — a rematch of last year’s Mid-American Conference Championship game won by the Huskies.
The Flashes played respectably in a two-touchdown loss to the nationally ranked and undefeated Huskies (5-0, 1-0 in MAC) and it won’t be any easier at 3 p.m. today at West Division-leading Ball State.
The Cardinals (5-1, 2-0) are coming off a 48-27 road victory at Virginia.
It is a game in which senior quarterback Keith Wenning became one of only two quarterbacks in the nation to have passed for 300 yards or more in each game this season. “He does a great job of getting the ball out early,” KSU coach Paul Haynes said of Wenning, who has already amassed 1,196 yards and 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions through the first six games. “There’s not a bunch of sacks on him in the film. And they’re talented on the outside at wideout as well, so he’s got targets to throw to.”
Wenning ranks 13th in the nation in completions per game (23.5), second in passing yards and 23rd in passing touchdowns. The Cardinals’ premier receiver is junior Willie Snead, who has 41 receptions and ranks second in the nation with 715 yards for the league’s top passing offense.
But Ball State’s offense features a balanced attack that keeps opposing defenses honest with a ground game led by junior Jahwan Edwards that averages 140.5 yards per game. Combined with 337.5 passing yards per game, it’s no wonder why Ball State is the MAC’s second-highest scoring with 41.3 points per game.
“Their offensive line is very solid,” Haynes said. “The big guys just sit there and they run plays very well. [Edwards] is patient and waits for the big guys to just eat up people.”
That will be a lot for the struggling Flashes (2-4, 1-2) to handle.
“Ball State is totally different than Northern,” Haynes said. “They’re a high-powered offense. … [but] I think they’re just going to stick to doing what they do best. But just like last week, the No. 1 thing is to keep them out of the end zone.”
That will be the same approach Ball State will likely take against Kent State’s biggest scoring threat — versatile senior Dri Archer.
“Everybody knows about the danger Archer poses as a receiver and kick returner,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “With him, you have some game-planning decisions to make, especially when it comes to kicking. If you decide to pooch or squib kick, you’re basically giving their offense a start at the 30-35-yard line every time. Otherwise, you risk Archer taking it to the house anytime he touches the ball.”
There’s no mistaking the impact Archer’s presence has had on the Flashes since returning to the lineup after missing time with a sprained ankle suffered in the season opener.
In addition to Archer’s game-changing ability that produced a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Huskies, having him in the same backfield with junior fullback Trayion Durham has helped boost Durham’s production. Durham rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games.
The way Lembo sounded during his portion of the weekly conference call, odds are the Cardinals won’t risk kicking to Archer, but they’ll still have to deal with him on offense.
“He’s a dynamic player who can change the game with one touch of the ball,” Lembo said. “The key to stopping him on offense starts with knowing where he is because they move him around a lot at receiver and running back. Shutting him down is probably unrealistic. What you try to do is contain him.”
In preparing for another high-scoring offense this week, Haynes was pleased to see plenty of fight in the Flashes.
“Improvements will be made and our guys are still hungry,” Haynes said. “Coming out of [last week’s game], one of the things the guys kept talking about is, ‘we’ll get this thing fixed, we’ll get this thing turned around’. There wasn’t a lot of sulking around. Sure, sulking because they lost, but not like it’s over, it’s done. [But more like] ‘we’re going to get better and finish this thing the right way’. And that’s something I always look at: if you have the attitude to want to get better, you will.”