Arkansas St., Kent State meet in GoDaddy.com Bowl

Arkansas State’s Ryan Aplin owns nearly every school passing

record after four productive seasons for the Red Wolves.

For his final game, the senior quarterback will get quite a test

from No. 25 Kent State’s gambling defense when the two teams meet

on Sunday in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

The Golden Flashes are tied for the top spot in the Football

Bowl Subdivision with 38 forced turnovers and a plus-21 turnover

margin, thanks to an aggressive defensive scheme that’s helped Kent

State (11-2) go bowling for the first time in 40 years.

Aplin – who has seen plenty of defenses geared to stop his

passing game over the years – says he’s never seen a defense quite

like Kent State’s.

”They’ve forced 38 turnovers which averages to about three per

game and that’s just ridiculous,” Aplin said. ”In a big game like

this, you can’t afford to give somebody momentum and they certainly

feed off of it. When they get those turnovers their offense almost

always goes down the field and scores.”

Kent State coach Darrell Hazell admits that his high-risk,

high-reward has a tendency to give up some big plays in the passing

game. And they’ll have to be very careful against a quarterback

like Aplin, who has 10,545 passing yards, 66 passing touchdowns and

31 rushing touchdowns in his decorated career.

”We’re going to have to be disciplined with our reads,” Hazell

said. ”It’s going to be a great football game.”

The Golden Flashes have taken a huge step forward in their

second season under Hazell, breaking the school record for wins and

advancing to college football’s postseason for the first time since

1972.

Arkansas State (9-3) won its second straight Sun Belt

championship this season under coach Gus Malzahn, ending the

regular season on a seven-game winning streak. The Red Wolves

haven’t lost since a setback to Western Kentucky on Sept. 29.

But the price of that success means both programs have already

lost their coaches to bigger programs. Hazell has been hired by

Purdue – though he’s staying to coach in Sunday’s bowl game – while

Malzahn took the Auburn job. The Red Wolves will be coached by

defensive coordinator John Thompson.

It’s the second straight season Arkansas State has had to deal

with a coaching transition while preparing for the GoDaddy.com

Bowl. After last season’s Sun Belt title, coach Hugh Freeze left to

take the Mississippi job and the Red Wolves ended up losing to

Northern Illinois.

Aplin said the team should handle the adversity better this

season, but he didn’t deny the transition is hard.

The quarterback is the unquestioned leader of the Red Wolves’

offense, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes this season for

3,129 yards, 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed

for 443 yards and six touchdowns.

”You never really completely adjust (to a coaching change),”

Aplin said. ”You get close with people on a personal level and it

makes it hard. You’d think after going through it a few times you’d

be used to it, but you really don’t. It’s just one of those things

that you’ve got to come together as a team and our assistants have

been awesome at making sure we’re staying together.”

Hazell has spent the past month split between preparing Kent

State for a bowl game and beginning to build his program at Purdue.

He said it’s been hectic, but it’s important that he stayed with

the Golden Flashes to finish what’s been a historic season.

He expects emotions to be high on Sunday.

”Right now it’s fine,” Hazell said. ”But Sunday night I’m

sure it will be a little different. There’s so much going through

my head right now. It’s the last time I’ll really spend with these

guys who have really changed the culture at Kent State. That’s

pretty amazing.”

Kent State’s offense is powered by a productive running game,

led by Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. Archer is a speedy 5-foot-8,

175-pounder who has rushed for 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns this

season while Durham is the power option, a bruising 250-pound

sophomore back who has gained 1,248 yards and scored 14

touchdowns.

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