For every Ohio football game, Speakeasy Sports will be going into the den of the opponent to get first-hand analysis. By reaching out to team beat reporters, Speakeasy provides a unique look-in at how the ‘Cats will fare against their adversaries. In a question-and-answer format, Speakeasy chats with another team’s reporter to gain a new perspective on Ohio’s opponents.
This week, Speakeasy talks to Daily Kent Stater sports editor and columnist Nick Shook. You can follow him on Twitter at @NickShookDKS.
Speakeasy Sports: After that close fight with Northern Illinois came up short for the Golden Flashes in the MAC Championship game last season, there were still a lot of high expectations heading into this season. How has the team responded to the brutal schedule they faced and not meeting standards that they set for themselves?
Nick Shook: They’ve fought more than the final score would show in a lot of games, however, they’ve had a real issue with being able to finish games. There’s a big example in that when they lost to Ball State on the road. It was really a demoralizing loss, and they weren’t that much of a factor in the three games [following the loss to BSU]. Their defense has played well at times, but they’ve just been gassed all season. In comparison to last year, it’s just a totally different team: New coach, a lot of leaders lost, new quarterback and [running back] Dri Archer got hurt earlier in the year and never really got on track. And it killed their offense really from the get-go.
SS: To begin that five-game losing streak that Kent State went through this season, the Golden Flashes hosted Northern Illinois at home in what was a close-fought game. The season seemed to down spiral after that. What was the defining failure for KSU during their five-game skid?
NS: They played really well the next week against Ball State, but if you talk about a turning point, it was that game. They really didn’t put up a fight over the next three games. They lost to Bowling Green in a game that was much closer than the final score showed; they really just got dominated in the second half. And I guess that’s been the story for much of the season outside of the losses against LSU and Penn State. They’ve just been beaten in the second half. Pretty much every game has been close going into halftime, and then they just can’t put four quarters together.
SS: If there was going to be player in the Ohio-Kent game next Tuesday who could really provide a spark for the Golden Flashes in the second half, who would that be?
NS: I think you still have to go back to Dri Archer. If they get the ball in his hands, he’s the best player on the field bar none. He’s got top-flight speed. When he gets near his full speed, it’s like he has hit another gear. He’s very much a slithering type of back where he can weave his way through very small spaces, but the problem is they aren’t getting him the ball. Bottom line, Archer’s not getting the ball enough out of the backfield. He’s getting some bubble screens and swing passes, but nothing where he can really stretch the field.
SS: What do you think is the difference between the defense’s play this season compared to last season in terms of supplementing the offense?
NS: Well, I think it falls on the offense first. They’ve turned the ball over on offense and they can’t move the ball on offense, so it puts the defense’s backs against the walls. Their defense is out there a lot of the game. They get tired, and by the fourth quarter, they just don’t have the gas they need to keep the team basically in competition. I wouldn’t necessarily put the bad turnover margin on the defense. They obviously haven’t made as big of a difference as they did last year.
SS: Whether it is on offense, defense or special teams, where do you see a distinct advantage for the Golden Flashes when lined up against the Bobcats?
NS: If Kent State can operate ahead instead of always at a loss or a deficit, I think Kent State’s offense and their running attack would really come through, because they really have good three backs. If they operate with a lead or even a tie and they can establish their ground game, I think that’s really where they hold an advantage.
SS: With implications much more different this time around for Kent State and Ohio than in 2012, what are you thinking as far as a score prediction for Tuesday’s game?
NS: I think that Ohio will probably come away with a victory. It will be closer than expected. I’d probably give Ohio a 10-point victory just knowing how the Flashes play and how their season has gone.