Matt Sussman over at SB Nation's new MAC blog Hustle Belt was kind enough to answer some questions about Kent State in anticipation of this weekend's game between the Eagles and Golden Flashes.
BC Interruption: Coming off a 5-7 (4-4 MAC East) season, does Kent State enter this year as a contender or a pretender in the MAC East title race?
Hustle Belt: They're legitimate contenders to win the MAC East. Returning are 16 starters from that 5-7 team and they have defensive playmakers on the line and in the secondary. (Linebacker too.) Meanwhile, many teams in the MAC East are taking steps back this year. For the division, it's probably between Kent State and Temple.
BCI: Head coach Doug Martin enters his seventh season with the Flashes but he's only gotten to 6-6 once in his previous six seasons at Kent State (and has posted just one winning record in MAC play). How hot, if at all, is Martin's coaching seat?
HB: I'm pretty sure it's winning season or bust. Last year they began 4-1 in the conference and should've finished their last three games 2-1 but instead l ost all three. They've been rightfully patient with him, since KSU's expectations have always been realistic, but their experience and schedule sets them up perfectly for a run in 2010, and if they somehow bomb out with a four-win season, it's gotta be curtains.
BCI: Last year, the Eagles saw Kent State's Giorgio Morgan start at quarterback. Over the course of last season, Morgan eventually coughed up the starting QB job to Spencer Keith. BC will likely see Keith instead of Morgan on Saturday. How do the two QBs differ in their style of play?
HB: For the life of me I can't discern a difference between the two, based on numbers and experience, other than Keith's a sophomore and Morgan's a junior, so on a toss-up you groom the guy with more eligibility. They're not entirely accurate or mobile, but they're just good enough.
Either guy will be ready to play. One of my favorite preseason stories was how Coach Martin had Keith fake an ACL injury just to see how the team would react during practice. Giorgio became the practice quarterback and played well. But what you won't see is a vertical passing game. Keith had only three completions of 20 yards or more. Against Murray State.
BCI: All-conference RB Eugene Jarvis' season was ended during last year's BC game when he lacerated his spleen after a hit from BC's Marcellus Bowman. As a result, do you think Jarvis will have any jitters going into this game? How do you expect him to perform, considering the BC rush defense has been able to neutralize Jarvis' big play-making ability in our last two meetings?
HB: Jarvis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility after that injury, maybe because the NCAA is grossed out by spleen injuries. I know I am. But unless a football player knows he is a fragile glass figurine, they're not really afraid of what injury they COULD get, because they've seen or heard all the stories about Joe Theismann and Sterling Sharpe and Kevin Everett and they're still out there bangin' like they're invincible planes from Independence Day.
They did outfit Jarvis with special padding that protects his torso without limiting his mobility, but no garment in the world will hide the fact that he's only gained 68 yards on 21 carries in two games against Boston College. They have his number. Basically Jarvis is going to have to find a way to run around the defense and move the chains on short down situations.
BCI: Kent State walloped Murray State last week by 31 points. Was the game closer than the score indicated? Where do the Flashes still need to see the most improvement?
HB: Murray State is in the same conference (Ohio Valley) as Jacksonville State, but JSU was picked to win it and Murray was voted last. They were a team Kent State was supposed to destroy and experiment with offensively, because it's unethical to play football against giant laboratory hamsters. The game was never close. But they could clean up their penalties -- they were whistled 13 times. They also didn't run well, rushing just 3.5 yards per carry and nobody hit the 50-yard mark on the ground.
BCI: Who do the Eagles need to be most concerned with on Kent State's offense? How about the defense?
HB: On offense, there really aren't a ton of playmakers, so the concern is to wear down that offensive line. Tyshon Goode is their primary receiver, so simply focus on him. On defense, if safety Brian Lainhart is in the area ... don't throw it to him. In his last 13 games he has seven interceptions and five forced fumbles. He'll get ya.
BCI: What would a win over Boston College mean for the Kent State program?
HB: ACC teams validate their programs by winning BCS games or top 10 opponents (Or, hey, becoming a top 10 team.) For the MAC, schools earn their stripes by upsetting big-name teams. Toledo and Bowling Green are the best at this. Central Michigan was great for four years, but the knock on them was they could never beat an AQ conference team. Then they shocked Michigan State last year, and suddenly their dynasty was complete. Kent State had the Iowa State win in 2006, but no other takedown worth bragging about in recent memory. No MAC story is complete without hitting a major program between the eyes.
BCI: Last question. Prediction time. Who ya got in this one? What's the final score?
HB: BC 24, Kent State 16. You've got two teams with question marks on offense, hence the low scoring. But BC's the deeper team. I'm just too chicken to call the upset. Still, it will be a fun game to watch for the impartial fans. And probably a nail-biting, ulcer-inducing one for the Eagles faithful.
BCI: We can only hope your prediction is a bit off. I'm not sure if BC fans can take any more ulcers. Thanks for joining us, Matt.
For more information on Kent State and the MAC, be sure to check out Hustle Belt.