Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Darrell Hazell engineered one of the best turnarounds
in college football in his second season as the head coach of his alma mater
in 2012. Kent State finished just 5-7 overall with a 4-4 mark in conference
play in his first season with the team, but it almost tripled its total of
wins in 2012 in what turned out to be a truly remarkable season.
The Golden Flashes coasted to a 41-21 win over Towson in their opener, but
they were dealt a lopsided, 47-14, loss the following week at Kentucky. They
went undefeated the rest of the regular season though as they managed to
outlast Ball State for a 45-43 win and upset Rutgers, 35-23, on the road. KSU
nearly claimed its first conference championship since 1972 as well, but it
came up short in double-overtime and fell, 44-37, to Northern Illinois. Hazell
accepted an offer to become the head coach of Purdue shortly after the loss to
the Huskies, but he stuck around to coach the team as it took on Arkansas
State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The Golden Flashes gave the Sun Belt Conference
champions a battle, but they were unable to send off their coach in a winning
fashion, falling, 17-13.
Paul Haynes, who spent the 2012 season as the defensive coordinator at
Arkansas, was hired as Hazell's replacement. He has no previous head coaching
experience, but he served as an assistant for the Jacksonville Jaguars,
Louisville, Michigan State and Ohio State prior to his one-year stint with the
OFFENSE: Kent State used a dynamic rushing attack to put up 225.8 yards per
game on the ground on its way to 33.1 points per game. Tailback Dri Archer was
the biggest home run threat in the nation and was named to a Walter Camp First
Team All-American after gaining 8.9 yards per carry, which was the highest
single-season average this century by a player with at least 150 carries. The
elusive and speedy rusher finished the regular year with 1,429 yards and 16
touchdowns on 159 carries. He also paced the team in receiving with 561 yards
and four touchdowns on 39 receptions. His phenomenal performance as a junior
has inspired the school to start a Heisman Trophy campaign for him.
"When you think about the Heisman and the best college football player, it
should be someone who is exciting," Haynes says. "When you look at how
electric he is and the plays that he made, he's a natural fit. He's one of
those players where every time he touches the ball he has a chance to make a
big play, and I think people are really going to legitimately look at him as a
Heisman candidate. Dri is all about doing what's best for the team, but when
it comes to catching the attention of fans and media, we want to put him front
Haynes is expected to use Archer more in the passing game than as a rusher.
Junior halfback Trayion Durham was overshadowed by Archer's elite numbers last
season, but he quietly racked up 1,316 yards and 14 touchdowns on 276 carries.
The thunder and lightning attack on the ground made up for a lackadaisical
passing game. There will be a new quarterback under center this season as
senior David Fisher and redshirt freshman Colin Reardon are both viable
options to replace four-year starter Spencer Keith.
Including Archer, KSU had seven different players finish 2012 with a double-
digit total of receptions and at least 180 yards. Josh Boyle and Chris
Humphrey both cracked the 330-yard mark as underclassmen.
The offensive line is suspect after losing three starters from last year's
steady unit. Left guard Pat McShane and center Phil Huff will provide senior
leadership up front for the three inexperienced players joining them in the
DEFENSE: The Golden Flashes were not quite as tough on the other side of the
ball with allowed averages of 410.3 yards and 33.1 points per outing. However,
Kent State forced 35 turnovers to finish second in the nation in turnover
ratio (+ 1.43). The defensive unit was above average versus the run, as it
ranked 33rd in the FBS and second in the MAC with only 138.4 rushing yards
allowed per game.
Although its numbers left plenty to be desired last season, Haynes will be
lucky to get the same production as he is faced with the difficult task of
replacing six starters on defense. An important piece to the puzzle returns to
the defensive line though, as senior nose tackle Roosevelt Nix takes aim at
his fourth-consecutive appearance on the First-Team All-MAC. No player has
been able to accomplish that feat in program history.
The attention Nix demands on the interior will free up senior ends Mark
Fackler and Zack Hitchens to pursue the passer. KSU played aggressively on
defense last season, which led to a high number of allowed yards in addition
to an average of 2.5 sacks and 5.6 tackles for loss per game. Fackler showed
off his versatility last season as he managed to intercept three passes, one
of which he returned for six points.
The Golden Flashes are lacking experience at linebacker. Haynes is hoping the
sophomore tandem of Matt Dellinger and Jordan Italiano can quickly settle into
their new starting roles.
KSU has a ball-hawking safety to lead the way in senior Luke Wollet. He comes
into his final campaign with 201 total stops, 10 interceptions, two forced
fumbles and three defensive touchdowns. The defensive backfield has a pair of
proven corners in Darius Polk and Malcolm Pannell to counter the opposition's
SPECIAL TEAMS: Anthony Melchiori began his career on the right note in 2012,
averaging 42.6 yards per punt to rank second in the conference. The starting
place kicking job was an open competition heading into the offseason. Redshirt
freshman Brad Miller is the front runner to win the job. He made 69 straight
PATs during his high school career.
Archer was named to the First-Team All-MAC as a running back last season and
then again as a returner. He was also the conference's Special Teams Player of
the Year and a consensus All-American as a kick returner after tallying 591
yards and three touchdowns on 16 attempts. Although he is an important asset
to the offense, Archer will most likely continue his stellar work on special
teams to keep open the possibility of an NFL career as a return specialist
just in case his lack of size prevents him excelling as a wideout.
OUTLOOK: Kent State will not be sneaking up on anybody again this season after
last year's breakthrough. The team may take a step back until it recovers from
the numerous changes in the coaching staff and depth chart.
Haynes makes his head coaching debut in late August when Kent State hosts
Liberty at Dix Stadium. It will remain at home for its MAC opener against
Bowling Green before hitting the road for difficult tests at LSU and Penn
State. The Golden Flashes's rough stretch will continue with their next three
challenging league games, at Western Michigan, versus Northern Illinois and at
Ball State. KSU concluded its non-conference schedule the following week at
South Alabama before returning to MAC action to take on Buffalo, Akron, Miami-
Ohio and Ohio.
The Golden Flashes have to perform at a very high level once again if Archer's
hopes of winning the Heisman Trophy are going to be realized. It is very
unlikely they will soar to the same heights in 2013, but no one believed they
were capable of winning 11 games prior to last season's opening kickoff
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