KENT: It’s been four decades since the Kent State football team won a Mid-American Conference title.
The Golden Flashes (1-1) are working toward putting an end to that drought this season, a quest that begins Wednesday when they travel to Buffalo (1-1) for a nationally televised (7 p.m. ESPNU) MAC opener.
“Every game you play in the MAC, you have to believe you’re playing for a MAC championship,” KSU coach Darrell Hazell said.
The Flashes have won more frequently under Hazell, but the next hurdle is being able to win on the road. KSU has lost seven of its past eight road games.
Winning in unfamiliar environments has been a point of emphasis for the Flashes since preseason camp. But after a season-opening home win over Towson, the Flashes weren’t able to get their first road win last week, suffering a 47-14 loss at Kentucky.
Losing by 33 points (even against a Southeastern Conference team) came as a surprise to the Flashes’ defense, which has been the team’s strong suit for several years.
“I think rebounding will be big for their confidence,” Hazell said of the defense. “Everything was fixable.”
The defense took the brunt of the loss against Kentucky, but Hazell knows his offense needs to continue to improve as well, especially being more aggressive in the passing game.
Although senior quarterback Spencer Keith continues to do a good job of taking care of the ball (he is turnover free in his past seven games), so much concentration on ball security has led to some hesitancy on his part.
“He took care of the football, but he’s got to play a little better,” Hazell said. “We have to hit those open guys in the red zone. We didn’t convert as well as I thought we would on third down, we missed a couple throws late in the game that we need to make.”
One factor that should help the Flashes against the Bulls (who lost to Georgia and beat Morgan State) is last week’s bye week, which gave KSU extra time for several banged-up players to heal.
Defensive linemen Richard Gray (quad) and Dana Brown (shoulder) played sparingly against Kentucky. Hazell said both are expected to play against the Bulls.
A healthy defensive line should help against Buffalo running back Branden Oliver. Oliver, a junior, leads the MAC with 174.5 rushing yards per game after last week’s 238-yard performance and two touchdowns against Morgan State. He gained 111 yards and had a touchdown against Georgia.
Also expected to be at full strength after getting dinged up at Kentucky are running backs Dri Archer (forearm) and Trayion Durham (shoulder).
Hazell said Durham, a sophomore, had his best week of practice. Archer already has four touchdowns in just five quarters of play.
Senior receiver Tyshon Goode (left hamstring) is also scheduled to make the trip, with the possibility of making his 2012 debut.
“We’ll find out about Tyshon at game time,” Hazell said.
The Flashes will be without cornerback Norman Wolfe for at least the next month. A Buchtel graduate, Wolfe broke his arm in the first half against Kentucky. Junior Darius Polk will take over for Wolfe, and Dylan Farrington will also get additional playing time.
“I think we’ll be fine without [Wolfe],” sophomore safety Calvin Tiggle said. “Dylan’s shown he’s improved with a great practices this week. So I think he’ll step in fine for Norman.”
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.