By EVAN MEYER
The Kent State Golden Flashes open the 2015 football season Saturday as they travel to Memorial Stadium in Champaign-Urbana to battle the Fighting Illini of Illinois out of the Big Ten. Here is a look at the two teams:
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A LOOK BACK AT 2014: The Flashes lost the season opener on the final play of the game at home to Ohio 17-14 after coming back to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. That loss sent the Blue and Gold into a tailspin of seven straight losses including setbacks at eventual National Champion Ohio State and Virginia by a combined total of 111-13.
KSU, however, started to play better after the loss to UVA. The Flashes gave eventual MAC Champion Northern Illinois all it could handle, losing late in the fourth quarter. They picked up their first win of the season at home against the triple option of Army, 39-17. Again, they played tough against Toledo and MAC East Champion Bowling Green falling in the fourth quarter before finishing the season defeating arch-rival Akron, 27-24, to regain possession of the Wagon Wheel Trophy
A LOOK AHEAD: As head coach Paul Haynes enters his third season, he brings back eight starters from an offense that averaged only 316 yards and 16 points per game in 2014.
At the controls will be junior QB Colin Reardon, who completed 57 percent of his passes a season ago for 2,466 yards with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He can also be used in the running game, especially on the read-option, rushing for 146 yards and two scores.
The running game will be bolstered by the return of Trayion Durham who missed the entire 2014 season with a foot injury. The addition of Durham to returning starter junior Nick Holley will bolster the running game.
The passing game saw the graduation of their two top men of 2014 in Chris Humphrey and Casey Pierce. Look for Junior Ernest Calhounm sophomore Kris White and junior Bryce Fackler to be the main cogs. In addition, look for Josh Boyle to bounce back after a below average 2014, as well as West Virginia transfer Connor Arlia for support.
The offensive line brings back four starters, led by junior LT Reno Reda and senior RG Anthony Pruitt. Look for sophomore C Nathan Puthoff to keep improving at that position.
The 2014 defense, which allowed 430 yards and 29 points per game brings back nine starters. The strength is in the defensive secondary, led by junior FS Nate Holley. He was one of the tackle leaders in not only the MAC, but the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. Senior SS Jordan Italiano is another important cog for the backfield.
The defensive front has two fifth year seniors in Nate Terhune and Clay Miller, along with rising sophomore Jon Cunningham, The linebackers are led by senior Matt Dellinger and junior Elcee Refuge, a transfer from Ohio State.
The kicking game will be led by senior Anthony Melchiori , who will do the punting and kickoff duties. As for place kicking, it will be between Brad Miller, who battled some injuries last year, Melchiori and redshirt freshman Shayne Hynes. Look for Calhoun to be the lead punt returner, while freshman Myles Washington and redshirt frosh Raekwon James handle the kickoffs
KSU NOTES AND QUOTES:
QB Colin Reardon enters 2015 fourth on the schoolcareer passing completions list (414) and sixth in passing yards (4,423) and touchdown passes (26). The Flashes are 1-13 lifetime against the current teams in the Big Ten (The lone win came in 2012 at Rutgers)…KSU is 32-34 lifetime in season openers last winning its first game in 2013 at home against Liberty (FCS) …P/PK Anthony Melchiori ranked 12th in the FBS in punting averaging 44.3 yards per kick…SS Jordan Italiano was named the smartest player in College Football according to NFL.com the senior has a 3.979 GPA majoring in pre med/biochemistry
THE SERIES: Friday night’s game is the first ever meeting between the two schools
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten)
A LOOK BACK AT 2014: Illinois started the season strong with wins in three of its first four games -- all at home (Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, and Texas State).A loss at nationally ranked Nebraska in the Big Ten opener sent the team into a stretch of five losses in their next six games (the lone win in the stretch coming at home over Minnesota). The Illini bounced back, winning their final two games over Penn State and then over Northwestern in the season finale to earn a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they lost to Louisiana Tech out of Conference USA.
A LOOK AHEAD TO 2015: Illinois took a hit before anybody suited up for the opening game. Head coach Tim Beckman, previously head coach at Toledo, was relieved of his Illini duties after the team returned to campus from its training facility at Rantoul. The “next man coach up” is offensive coordinator and former Western Michigan head man Bill Cubit.
The Illini offense is led by senior RB Josh Ferguson, who rushed for 735 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago. In addition, he also caught 50 passes for 427 additional yards and two scores…Junior QB Wes Lunt will be at the controls. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes a season ago for 1,763 yards with 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions…The receivers are led by senior Geronimo Allison, who had 41 grabs for 598 yards and five touchdowns…The offensive line has two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore, led by LG Chris Boles and RG Ted Karras
The defense is led by senior LB Mason Monheim, who had 111 total tackles a season ago (43 solo), and junior SS Taylor Barton. He totaled 100 stops in 2014 (44 solo)…The kicking game is led by senior PK Taylor Zalewski and junior P Ryan Frain. Senior Y’Angelo Bentley will be the main man on both punts and kickoff returns
ILLINOIS NOTES ANS QUOTES: The Fighting Illini begin their 126th season of collegiate football with the opener against KSU…RB Josh Ferguson is one of three active players in the FBS with over 155 career rushing and over 1,000 career receiving yards (D.J. Foster-Arizona State and Byron Mitchell-Oregon the others)…Illinois is 78-42-5 in season openers and 55-27-4 beginning the season at home…Illinois has won 17 straight home openers and won the last nine dating back to 1997