Falcons, Flashes test each other’s strength; BG’s defense aims to secure MAC East title

Kent State will bring its vaunted rushing attack to Doyt Perry Stadium on Saturday, when the Golden Flashes face Bowling Green, the MAC's best rushing defense.
Kent State will bring its vaunted rushing attack to Doyt Perry Stadium on Saturday, when the Golden Flashes face Bowling Green, the MAC's best rushing defense.

BOWLING GREEN — Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

Something has to give when one of the best rushing offenses in the Mid-American Conference meets the league’s top rushing defense Saturday. And that’s the case as the Bowling Green State University football team hosts Kent State at Doyt Perry Stadium.

Kickoff is set at noon for the contest, which will essentially determine the MAC’s East Division champion.

Kent State enters the game with a 9-1 record, a 7-0 mark in MAC play, and is ranked No. 25 in the most-recent AP poll. The Golden Flashes have won 13 of their last 15 games, a roll that began last season when they hosted the Falcons after a bye week and claimed a 27-15 victory.

“They may have had the greatest bye week in football history,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “They were 1-6, and they had a bye week right before us.

“They changed a lot of things up, and they found their identity. Since then, they’ve been lights-out.”

And that identity, according to Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, has focused on the ground game.

“We committed ourselves to being a running team offensively,” he said. “[During that bye week] we moved some guys around up front, and we decided to hang our hats on [our running game].

“We’ve been able to establish the run from that game.”

The Flashes averaged 235.7 yards per game this season, the 15th-best total among Football Bowl Subdivision schools and second-best in the MAC. KSU has two runners who already have surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier in sophomore Trayion Durham, who has 1,059 yards and 13 touchdowns, and junior Dri Archer, who has run for 1,043 yards and 12 scores.

“It’s the one-two punch every coach dreams of,” Clawson said. “I don’t know what Archer’s 40 time is, but he can fly. He runs by people every week. When he is in the game, he is capable of producing a 60-yard play every time he touches it.

“They combine that with Durham, who is 250 pounds and will pound you.”

They will be quite a challenge for the Falcons, who rank 14th nationally — and tops in the MAC — in rushing defense, allowing just 103.7 yards per game.

“It’s tough to scheme against a team like that, with guys who can do such great things with power and speed,” junior linebacker Paul Swan said. “But we’re going to be ready for the test.”

Clawson said his team’s formula for success won’t be much different that in past weeks.

“We’re going to have to get off blocks, and we’ll have to tackle well,” he said. “If you watch the game from a year ago, we had guys who were unblocked in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage — and we missed so many tackles.

“Give credit to Kent for making us miss. But our best players didn’t tackle well in this game.”

Hazell said he was impressed with the film he has seen on the Falcons defense.

“Bowling Green’s defensive line is really, really good,” he said. “Their whole front seven is really good. They tackle well, they’re very active, they run to the ball. This may be the best defensive line we’ve seen all year.”

Clawson said the key may come down to the play of Kent State’s veteran offensive line, which features three seniors and two juniors, against BG’s front seven.

“I think it’s strength against strength,” Clawson said. “I think we have a very good defensive line. I think they have an excellent offensive line.

“Certainly who controls the line of scrimmage will be at a major advantage.”

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.