It’s Week 5 of the college football season. For Kent State, in many ways it’s also a second Week 1.
Week 5 means the Golden Flashes (1-3, 0-1 MAC) are entering the heart of their Mid-American Conference schedule, which gets going at Western Michigan (0-4) at 7 p.m. today. It also means they’re finally past a brutal nonconference schedule that included back-to-back games against Louisiana State and Penn State.
The Golden Flashes are 1-3 and already have a loss in the MAC (Bowling Green, 41-22), but coach Paul Haynes is reminding everyone in the KSU locker room that every objective laid out before the year is still on the table — namely, the MAC championship that eluded KSU last season.
“You can end up exactly where you want to be,” Haynes said on Monday, giving a taste of his mantra this week. “Every goal that we want to accomplish is still in front of us.”
Week 5 also means the expected return of star Dri Archer, who’s struggled to get back on the field with a left ankle sprain.
Archer lasted only one play against Louisiana State and was held out of the Penn State game last week, both 30-point losses against traditional powerhouses.
Health has been the biggest issue during the Flashes’ run through the BCS gauntlet, but the roster this week should see a revival of several key pieces, in addition to Archer.
Offensive lineman Pat McShane is set to return in at least a rotation. Defensive lineman Chris Fairchild is a hopeful to play 15-20 snaps. And standout defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix, who has been playing with a back injury, is said to be feeling better.
That’s in addition to running back Julian Durden’s return after sitting out the first four games due to a violation of the NCAA’s academic policy.
The Flashes now have a healthier offensive line and three running backs to throw at opposing defenses instead of having to sit back and watch teams hone in on Trayion Durham. Now at full steam, running the ball with authority again is priority No. 1 on offense for Haynes.
“We have to be able to run it,” Haynes said. “When you can’t, you get a lot of teams playing coverage and it’s tough to sit there and throw the ball. ... When we did that, you look at even the LSU game when you ran the ball better and Bowling Green, it opened up some of the pass plays.”
Western Michigan is in a similar position as the Golden Flashes, suffering blowout losses against Big Ten opponents Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa already this year. Today marks the beginning to the Broncos’ conference schedule, and their own “new start.”
“This is kinda where it all starts,” Haynes said. “I’m sure [Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck] is doing the same thing, thinking about those games. What we see on film, we’re gonna see a better team on Saturday, and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”
The Broncos are a spread-first team that relies on the ability to come out in more compact formations and run behind zone blocking schemes. Western Michigan is led by Tyler Van Tubbergen, who has completed 44.1 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions with two touchdowns. Tubbergen struggled last week against Iowa and was benched in the second half, though Fleck remains steadfast he’ll remain the Broncos’ quarterback.
His No. 1 receiver, Corey Davis, has 23 catches for 335 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Brian Fields (264 yards, 3 touchdowns) and change-of-pace back Dareyon Chance are each averaging better than four yards a carry.
Facing Western Michigan is worlds apart from playing the Tigers and Nittany Lions. But Haynes sees those games as opportunities to hone the same techniques used against anyone else on the schedule.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it still comes down to the little things,” Haynes said. “It still comes down to the fundamentals and technique of football, no matter who they put out there. If they put the Dallas Cowboys in front of us, it’s still gonna come down to fundamentals and technique and execution.”
The application of those fundamentals starts today, Kent State’s second Week 1.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at https://ohio.com/flashes. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.