Daily Blog • January 6th



Arkansas St vs Kent St
ARKANSAS ST (9-3) 184
KENT ST (11-2)
9:00 pm • ESPN • Ladd-Peebles Stadium • Mobile, AL

First meeting. New coach, same result. For the 2nd straight year ASU finds itself the SBC Champ and in the GoDaddy.com Bowl with a 1st year HC that has left to take an SEC job. Last year Hugh Freeze left to become HC at Ole Miss prior to the bowl and this year Gus Malzahn left for Auburn as ASU will look for its first ever bowl win in this, its 3rd try. The SBC crown came down to the final game of the season and ASU responded with its most impressive win of the year as they handled Middle Tenn 45-0. ASU was 3-3 vs bowl eligible teams, outscoring them 33-29 and outgaining them 454-431. Those numbers are more impressive when you factor in that ASU played both Oregon and Nebraska. HC Darrell Hazell in just his 2nd season at Kent St, led the Flashes to just their 2nd bowl appearance (1st since ‘71) and just their 2nd winning season in the last 25 years! His remarkable job didn’t go unnoticed as he left to take over at Purdue and both teams will be led by interims here. Kent St was 4-1 vs bowl eligible teams, outscoring them 35-28, but was OUTGAINED 452-376.

ASU despite incorporating a new, although somewhat similar, system finished #17 in the FBS (my #30 offense) avg 482 ypg. The more the season went on, the better the team performed as they grew comfortable with Malzahn’s new schemes. ASU avg an eye popping 528 total yards over the final 5 games! Veteran QB Aplin (36 career sts) leads the up tempo system as he threw for over 300 yards in 5 games and his 23-4 ratio was a key to ranking #18 in the FBS in pass eff. WR McKissic, just a rFr, responded well to the changes, finishing in the top 10 in rec’s/gm, and has a great chance to break into triple digits. Tennessee transfer David Oku provided ASU with a consistent running game, finishing with over 1,000 yards while finding the endzone in each of the last 7 games. The OL avg 6’3” 295 with 1 Sr starter and saw their rush ypg explode from 154 (3.9) last year to 217 (5.2) this year, while their sacks allowed decreased from 27 (5.4%) last year to just 13 (3.4%) this year. Our #69 ranked D is led by LB Herrold. The rush D improved significantly as the season wore on. Over the first 6 games vs FBS foes the Wolves were allowing 224 ypg (4.7), but over the last 5, the numbers dropped to just 79 ypg (2.8). ASU has my #89 pass eff D. One area where ASU was dominated in was ST’s. After finishing near the top of my rankings last year (#19) the Wolves have taken a steep drop all the way down to #122 this year! Their net punting (#120 FBS), PR avg (2.3, #116 FBS), and KR avg (18.9, #103 FBS) all rank near the bottom of the country.

Kent St truly was the surprise team of the MAC this year as they made it to the conference championship game, before falling in 2OT to NI as the Flashes were 1 win away from playing in a BCS bowl! They did have a bit of luck as evidenced by their +21 TO margin. My #60 offense is a run-oriented attack with a 2-headed monster in the backfield. Durham (250 lbs) is the starter and softens up the defense in time for Archer (4.3 spd) to come in and provide a huge change of pace that gives D’s fits. Both had over 1,000 rush yards as Durham had six 100 yard games while Archer had 5, but 2 were for over 200 yards! The OL avg 6’3” 303 and has 3 Sr starters. They are one of the most improved units in the country as they bettered their rush ypg from 108 (3.0) last year to 228 (5.4) this year while decreasing their sacks allowed from 30 (8.6%) last year to 20 (6.2%) this year. QB Keith is the true definition of a game manager. If he has to throw, the Flashes are likely in trouble. In the MAC Champ game, Kent St’s rushing attack was stymied, forcing Keith to throw and he suffered tremendously (40.5% comp). While Archer is the leading pass catcher, Boyle is Keith’s favorite target from the WR position but he has been held to just 5 rec’s the last 5 games. LB Batton has reached 100+ tackles in back-to-back seasons and leads my #75 defense. The rush D has been consistent for much of the season, holding 3 FBS foes under 100 yards, but did allow over 300 to both Army & NI. Pass D is a strength as Kent St has my #73 pass eff D, due in large part to their 26-23 ratio. The Flashes enter the game with my #9 ST ranking, a huge improvement from their #109 ranking last year. P Melchiori is a big key why Kent St ranks #12 in the FBS in net punting avg (40.1).

ASU’s offense led them to the Sun Belt title. Kent St, meanwhile, came up short in the MAC Championship, but has learned how to win games as they were #1 in the NCAA in TO margin. Dynamic skill players on both sides and I’ll take the better D that is more excited, with a powerhouse backfield.