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Around the MAC: Archer’s return makes Kent a threat to NIU

Kent State looked like a different team with dynamic, all-purpose weapon Dri Archer back in the lineup. But will his presence be enough to help the Golden Flashes score a major MAC crossover victory this weekend against the same old Northern Illinois team that has cracked the top 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll?

Archer accounted for 121 yards and a touchdown rushing and receiving Saturday as Kent snapped a three-game losing streak with a 32-14 road conquest of Western Michigan. His return from a high ankle sprain improved Kent’s offensive flow as it piled up 452 yards and 26 first downs against the young and injury-riddled Broncos.

Archer made his presence felt with just 10 touches (six rushes, four receptions) and figures to be utilized more this week as Kent State (2-3, 0-1) tries to solve Northern Illinois in a rematch of last year’s MAC title game. The Huskies have won 15 straight regular-season games since dropping last year’s opener to Iowa. They debuted in the coaches poll this week at No. 23 and were the last team out in the AP Top 25.

“I think that all depends on what defenses give you,” Kent coach Paul Haynes said of Archer’s workload. “We don’t make our game plan around one person. I think he gives us that speed on the offensive side of the ball. Everyone knows he has a chance to go the distance every time he touches it. But I think the one good thing that we’ve established in these last three weeks is depth with him not being out there and to see some other things that we can do well.”

Meanwhile, NIU (4-0) finally gained a small measure of poll respect when it steamrolled Purdue, 55-24, on the road. The Huskies are the first MAC school ever to beat two Big Ten teams in the same season. The mystery is why it took NIU so long to crack into a national ranking. The Huskies were ranked 15th in the AP poll heading into last year’s Orange Bowl matchup with No. 12 Florida State, lost, fell to 23rd in the final poll, opened this season by beating Iowa and yet still resided on the outskirts.

“The polls are great, I like them, but they don’t mean a whole lot really until the end of the year,” NIU coach Rod Carey said.

NIU had to go double overtime to beat Kent, 44-37, in last year’s conference title game. Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch killed the Flashes by passing for 212 yards and running for another 160. On the flip side, Archer was held in check, running 12 times for just 15 yards (with a long of 15) and catching five balls for 81.

One difference: Kent’s getting better play out of the quarterback spot. Freshman Colin Reardon is completing almost 60 percent of his passes with six TDs and two interceptions.

“We’ve got to dot our I’s and cross our T’s on this one,” Carey said.

Seeing Red

Ball State (4-1, 2-0) established itself as the top challenger to NIU in the West by outlasting Toledo, 31-24, in Muncie, Ind., Saturday. Keith Wenning – the MAC’s best QB not named Jordan Lynch – was 27 of 38 for 335 yards and marched the Cardinals to an opening-drive TD for the fifth straight week.

“We were fortunate to get off to a terrific start,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “We were able to go down and score on our first drive again. It’s been a trend. I think it’ll be hard to continue but it’s been a trend here for us early in the season.

“And our defense got off to a much better start in this game. We forced a punt early. In fact, forced five punts in the first half and we were able to hold Toledo to just five first downs in the entire first half. It was a great first half for our defense and something we’ve really been looking for out of that unit.”

Ball State plays at Virginia this week and at NIU on Nov. 13.

Top performers

UB received two of the three player-of-the-week awards in the East off its 41-12 rout of Connecticut that cost Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni his job. The top players:

East: Offense – Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green, carried 24 times for 142 yards and added 71 yards on four receptions in a 31-14 conquest of Akron. Defense – Adam Redden, safety, UB, set up the first TD with a sack-strip-recovery and added a another sack against UConn. Special Teams – Patrick Clarke, kicker, UB, rebounded from a missed 41-yarder to make kicks of 49 and 50 yards against the Huskies.

West: Offense – Jordan Lynch, QB, NIU, threw for 207 yards and three TDs and ran for a score in the win over Purdue. Defense – Kenneth Lee, LB, Ball State had eight tackles, a pick and a sack against Toledo. Tommylee Lewis, WR, NIU, brought back the second-half kickoff against Purdue 99 yards for his fourth career return TD.

Keep an eye out

Akron (1-4) came within a yard of knocking off Michigan. The Zips had Bowling Green down early at BG on Saturday before the Falcons got their act together. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do against visiting Ohio University this week behind QB Kyle Pohl and two receivers averaging better than 14 yards per catch. It’s not the Ohio lock it looked like going into the season.