With a win Kent State would be bowl eligible for the first time since 2012 when Dri Archer and the Flashes lost 17-13 to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Kent State finished 1-2 against the top-3 Mid-American Conference East teams (Miami, Ohio and Buffalo), who will each be bowl eligible regardless of whether they win their final games. Here are five factors that could determine Friday’s outcome at Eastern Michigan.
1. Eastern Michigan’s rushing offense is the second worst in the conference, but that doesn’t mean Kent State will be able to stop them.
Eastern Michigan’s rushing offense averaged 121.8 yards per game through 11 games. They are averaging 132.9 rushing yards and over two rushing touchdowns per game in seven conference games this season.
Through 11 games, Kent State has the second-worst rushing defense in the FBS, allowing 260.8 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry.
The Flashes’ allowed 233 rushing yards per game in seven conference games. They allowed Akron’s rushing offense, which is last in the FBS in rushing yards per game (47.6), to run for a season-high 95 yards on 32 attempts.
The Flashes are 2-1 in their last three games, despite each opposing team finishing with 50 carries or more, and averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
2. Junior quarterback Dustin Crum will need to extend Kent State drives to keep the defense off the field.
Crum finished with 470 yards in a 41-38 win over Ball State on Nov. 23. It was the first time a Kent State player threw for 300 yards and rushed for 100 yards since Josh Cribbs in 2004 when the Flashes beat Eastern Michigan 69-17.
Crum will need to score and keep the defense off the field. Kent State has allowed 27 or more points in four of its last five games. Crum averaged 263.2 yards per game, and they are 2-2 in those games, while throwing for 12 of his 18 touchdown passes this season.
3. The Flashes will have to slow down Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass.
The Eagles have scored over 40 points during their two-game win streak against Akron and Northern Illinois. The Zips are the second best passing defense in the MAC, and the Huskies are ranked fifth. Glass averaged 240.5 yards per game and completed 40 of 49 passes in the two wins.
“Glass is performing at a really high level,” coach Sean Lewis said. “I think it’s going to be a battle between the two top quarterbacks in the conference.”
Kent State has the third best passing defense in the conference. Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke was the only quarterback to throw for over 300 yards against the Flashes’ defense this season.
4. Sophomore Xavier Williams has become the go-to running back, and he will need to continue to produce or the offense will sputter.
Williams finished last game with 18 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown. During the Flashes two-game win streak, he has 29 touches for 182 yards.
Williams adds a new dynamic to the Kent State offense with outside runs, pitches and catches in the flat, while senior running back Will Matthews can handle the inside run duties. Over the same two game span, Matthews has 25 touches for 122 yards.
5. Sophomore receiver Isaiah McKoy and senior receiver Mike Carrigan need to continue to catch passes in big moments.
The Flashes are a few McKoy and Carrigan drops from an 7-0 MAC record.
Last week, McKoy and Carrigan each had career days. McKoy had three receiving touchdowns, while Carrigan finished with a career-high 178 yards.
"My receiver coach also says, ‘If you drop a ball just hit the reset button,’” Carrigan said after the win against Ball State. “So every time I drop a ball I hit the reset button. Knowing the ball is coming back to me again (I know) I just have to make a play.”
McKoy and Carrigan will have to make plenty of plays if Kent State wants to keep its bowl hopes alive.
“We talk about it all the time with the work ethic that they have and the consistent repetition gives them conviction and confidence (to succeed),” Lewis said. “So even though the ball has been in Mike Carrigan’s hands before and he (dropped the ball) and hasn’t made the play, his confidence and his conviction to make a play has never wavered because of the work that he’s put in. The full body of work that nobody sees and the time invested in the summer.”
Lewis understands that Saturday’s game will be the most meaningful for the program since 2012.
“It’s because of the players that were in this position,” Lewis said. “They flipped the program. The stage is bright, and I think everyone outside looking in is like, ‘Oh they’ve never been here before. The players have never been here before. How are they going to handle it?’ For us we’re just going to go play ball.’”
Contact Ian Kreider at email@example.com.