On paper, today's University at Buffalo-Kent State football game does not look good for the Bulls.
Kent State (2-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) is on a mini roll entering its homecoming game (2 p.m., Radio 550 AM):
While the Golden Flashes' win last week over Northern Illinois wouldn't constitute a break-out-the-Dom-type victory for most programs, it was perhaps the school's most significant triumph since defeating Kansas in 1987.
After scoring just 31 points in its previous three games, Kent State detonated for 44 points against Northern Illinois, its biggest scoring output in four seasons. The Golden Flashes scored 17 points in the final 10 minutes.
Kent State is 2-0 at Dix Stadium for the first time since 1996 and is looking to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 1985.
"Unfortunately, there have been times where we've given some games away. This time (vs. Northern Illinois) we found a way to win one," Kent State coach Dean Pees said. "That was great for our kids to see and great for our kids to feel it. I can talk about it until I'm blue in the face but until you do it, it's an experience that you're not going to know how it feels until it happens."
Much like UB, wins have been hard to come by at Kent State, and the '90s were especially unpleasant. The Golden Flashes won just 15 games in the entire decade (Marshall, by comparison, won 15 games in the 1996 season) and only once did they win more than three games in a season. They went through four coaching changes, the last coming in 1998 when they hired Pees. Kent State has won five games since.
Still, the Golden Flashes have played well at times this season. In a 14-10 loss to rival Akron, Kent State fumbled twice into the end zone on two drives. On a third miscue, a snap flew over the head of punter Jared Fritz, who kicked it through the end zone for an apparent safety. But officials ruled that Fritz kicked the ball illegally, giving the Zips the ball on the 2-yard line. Akron scored a touchdown on the next play. A win would have placed the Golden Flashes in the thick of the MAC East Division race.
"They were a very good football team against Northern Illinois," UB coach Jim Hofher said. "The score doesn't give an indication that it was even more lopsided than that. If you go back a little further they played Akron at Akron and dominated them but didn't win the football game. Twice they were going in and they fumbled the football into the end zone in a 14-10 game, either one of which gives them a victory. They are playing very, very hard and very physical. They are growing by leaps and bounds."
Throw in the fact that trying to defend Kent State freshman quarterback Josh Cribbs is a lot like trying to chase a small motorcycle, and the Bulls could have a few problems. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Cribbs leads the Golden Flashes in rushing (412 yards) and passing (68 for 132, 790 yards, five TDs and three INTs), but Pees is more impressed that Cribbs doesn't make many mistakes.
"We've simplified some things for him, just letting him play," Pees said. "He still has his moments that he can raise the hair on the back of your neck a little bit, but that's a typical freshman."
Meanwhile, UB (1-5, 0-4) is on the road and has lost three straight. The Bulls' defense may have lost confidence after giving up 563 yards of total offense to Marshall, which dropped UB's total defense ranking from 40th in the country to 66th.
Hofher's biggest concern is establishing the run. The Bulls are last in the MAC in rushing offense, and leading rusher Marquis Dwarte is coming off a neck injury that forced him to miss last week's game against Marshall. But the Bulls rushed for a season-high 162 yards last week with the help of senior tailback Derrick Gordon, who rushed for a personal-best 137 yards. He'll share the position today with Dwarte and senior Albert Grundy.
"We work very hard to try and establish more of a running game," Hofher said. "Not just in the Marshall game, but in an attempt to allow our offense to become a little bit better. There's no doubt in my mind that we took a solid step forward in trying to do that, and Derrick was a big part of it."