UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s been a while since Kent State lost to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game.
And the fortunes have turned for the Golden Flashes since their 44-37 two-overtime loss last season. Former head coach Darrell Hazell won 15 of his final 19 games and earned a job at Purdue. He turned the reins over to Paul Haynes, who is 1-2 thus far. The Golden Flashes are getting outscored by an average of just over two touchdowns per game.
Now, they’re tasked with doing something they’ve never done before — beat a Big Ten team. Specifically, beat Penn State (2-1) at Beaver Stadium when the two teams meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, a week removed from being throttled by LSU, 45-13.
“It doesn’t get any easier. We go from Death Valley to Happy Valley, which isn’t very happy right now,” Haynes said. “It’s going to be a tough battle for us again but our guys are looking forward to it.”
And Penn State players are looking forward to washing the sour taste out of their mouths after dropping a three-point game to UCF last week. Penn State was favored by oddsmakers against the Knights and are the heavy favorites, by three touchdowns, to get back in the win column.
Penn State players aren’t paying too much attention to the betting lines, however.
“No matter what conference you’re in, what the name of your school is. Anybody could be beaten,” sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas said.
Lucas will be a part of a Penn State secondary that will defend against Kent State’s passing attack led by quarterback Colin Reardon. In his first year as the starter, Reardon has had to shoulder much of the offensive load as Kent State playmaker Dri Archer has been in and out of the lineup with an ankle injury. He is doubtful to play against Penn State.
Meanwhile, on defense the Golden Flashes are banged up too. Nose tackle Nate Terhune was lost for possibly the season with a broken leg and defensive end Roosevelt Nix has been limited with a back injury.
Penn State’s offensive line prepared this week for Nix being able to play. Nix is No. 2 all-time in Kent State history with 52 tackles for loss and his 201/2 sacks rank fourth all-time.
“Any guy that is probable to play, we scout him as if he’s 100 percent,” Penn State tackle Adam Gress said. “We don’t really consider this guy might not be in. We definitely look at the two-deep as far as it goes and we make sure that we know how each guy is playing. Coach Mac (MacWhorter) made it obvious that he’s a really good football player and he’s going to come out to play. We’re definitely aware of him and we’re definitely going to be ready for him.”
Haynes said his defense is ready for Penn State’s Allen Robinson to be heavily involved again. Robinson leads the Big Ten in nearly every receiving category.
Can Kent State stop him or slow him down?
“You look at the things he’s done in the games so far and he’s been a big part of the offense,” Haynes said. “I don’t know if there’s actually anything you can do to stop him, shut him down. But you’ve got to sit there and see what they do well with him and minimize the damage.”
But Robinson isn’t the only weapon with which Kent State will have to contend. Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton have all rushed for 100-plus yards over the last two weeks.
“It all starts with them running the football,” Haynes said. “And I know that their running game is a big part of who Penn State is. We’ve got to make sure we do that.”