Kent St.-Toledo Preview
Toledo vaulted into the AP Top 25 after holding the Mid-American Conference’s top rushing team to a minuscule total last weekend.
Kent State may have a losing record, but its defense doesn’t take a back seat to anybody in the conference.
These defensive-minded teams meet Saturday in Toledo, which has captured the last 10 home games against the Golden Flashes dating to 1977.
Toledo (4-0, 1-0) used stifling defense to win 24-10 at Ball State last Saturday. The No. 24 Rockets allowed only 26 yards rushing after the Cardinals entered the contest averaging a MAC-high 232.0.
The Rockets are yielding 13.0 points per game to top the conference after allowing an average of 30.5 a season ago in defensive coordinator Jon Heacock’s first season. Heacock, who was Kent State’s defensive coordinator from 2010-12, was hired last year by coach Matt Campbell.
"Matt’s done a good job of hiring Jon Heacock to come in and make them a better defense," Golden Flashes coach Paul Haynes said. "Jon is a stickler, he’s all about fundamentals and technique, he demands it and that’s what he’s getting out of them."
Haynes has a pretty good defense himself, with Kent State (2-3, 1-0) yielding an average of 258.0 yards for the MAC’s top figure.
Toledo is off to its best start since opening 5-0 in 2001 and is ranked for the first time in three years.
"Those are things that are great for our fan base and for our university but for everybody within our football walls I think the biggest thing in knowing how good everybody is that we continue to play is that we’re going to have to continue to do a great job improving," Campbell said.
Each team’s defense has a major playmaker in the secondary.
Toledo cornerback DeJuan Rogers is second on the team in total tackles (30) and pass break-ups (five) with one interception. He forced a fumble for the first time last Saturday.
"His play in really our first five football games has really been tremendous," Campbell said. "I think we all knew that DeJuan had an opportunity to be a special football player in our football program."
Kent State cornerback Demetrius Monday has five interceptions to tie for the most in the FBS. He picked off two passes last weekend for the Golden Flashes, who have 10 interceptions to match the nation’s second-highest total.
"I’m really impressed with this Kent State team and obviously it starts with their defense," Campbell said. "Defensively what’s so impressive is their kids always have the ability to be at the right place at the right time, they’re really opportunistic."
Both teams feature top rushing attacks, with Kent State second in the MAC with 175.4 yards per game and Toledo third at 175.3.
The Rockets are unsure of the status of starting running back Kareem Hunt, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
Hunt and Terry Swanson combined for 216 rushing yards in last season’s 30-20 win at Kent State. Swanson started in Hunt’s place last week and rushed for 139.
Neither team has a strong passing game.
Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely is an Alabama transfer who has four touchdown passes and four interceptions. The Rockets are one of two FBS teams along with Air Force who have not had their quarterback sacked.
"They get rid of the ball really fast so it’s hard to get pressure on them," Haynes said. "So again it goes back to do you try to get it, a lot of pressure, and send your guys up on the edge or do you try to play coverage?"
Kent State is last in the MAC in passing yards per game at 157.6. Quarterback Colin Reardon, who has six touchdowns and three interceptions, has the nation’s fifth-worst completion percentage at 45.9.
"I feel I can do a lot more and be a lot more consistent on the field," Reardon said. "I would like to reach that potential just like any other player would."
Toledo has won seven straight overall while Kent State has dropped seven in a row on the road.