This Saturday marks a return to conference play for Miami in a matchup between two teams that have not seen a lot of success in 2011. The RedHawks (1-4, 0-1) are coming off of their first win of the season, looking to carry momentum against the Kent State Golden Flashes (1-5, 0-2). Miami won last year’s meeting in Oxford by a 27-21 margin and is 45-13 all-time against the Flashes.
This doesn’t look to be a high-scoring game on paper. Miami is currently 11th in the MAC in points per game (17.4), and Kent is dead last (12.0). This matchup also features the bottom two running programs in the conference (Kent: 75.3 rush yards per game; Miami: 71.4) The obvious difference here is the passing game: while the Flashes have the weakest pass attack in the MAC (94.7 pass yards per game), Miami’s 278.6 passing yards per game is second-best in the conference and 31st in the nation. But the RedHawks did rack up 503 total yards against Army last week, so they may be finally finding a rhythm.
QB Zac Dysert will be challenged by the Flashes’ defense, which already has eight interceptions this year. Dysert has been accurate for the most part (121-of-196, 61.7%), though his touchdown-to-interception ratio (6:5) certainly isn’t stellar. But this will mark only the second week he is playing behind a healthy offensive line, as RT Matt Kennedy and C JoJo Williams were both back in the starting lineup against Army. Their impact was immediately obvious, as Dysert threw four TDs and no interceptions in that game. The running game benefitting to, as the ‘Hawks rushed for a season-high 161 yards as a team, with RB Erik Finklea accounting for a season-high 90.
Of course there’s that deep corps of receivers that makes Dysert’s job easy. We’re going to keep talking about WR Nick Harwell all season long, but Chris Givens, Andy Cruse and David Frazier have all shown an ability to make big plays too. This might be the first time this season Harwell doesn’t top 100 receiving yards, but I’m still betting he’ll hit the mark. He’s proving to be one of the most exciting receivers in the nation right now (10th nationwide in yards  and 1st in yards per game [159.0]). He’s forcing defenses to double-cover him, which opens up other playmakers.
This is the first home conference game of the season for the Golden Flashes (whose MAC losses have been a heartbreaker to Ohio and a blowout to Northern Illinois). Kent is looking for a spark offensively, and is likely to give redshirt freshman Cedric McCloud his first collegiate start against Miami. McCloud was inserted into last week’s game against Northern Illinois after junior Spencer Keith went 0-for-2 with an interception on the game’s opening possession. Keith had struggled this season, throwing for just 505 yards (71-of-159 attempts), three TDs and seven INTs. McCloud wasn’t much better, going 6-of-22 for 63 yards in his debut. He’ll still be playing behind the same porous offensive line which has allowed 20 sacks this year, so this will be an excellent opportunity for the RedHawks to pressure a young, inexperienced QB.
Though Miami nearly went winless in non-conference play, the season is far from over. Running the table in the MAC portion of the schedule is probably asking for too much, but the ‘Hawks don’t have to repeat as a 10-victory team this year. No team in the MAC East is undefeated in conference play, so a win versus the Flashes (and some helpful losses by other teams) puts Miami right back into the hunt for the division title.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Kent’s Dix Stadium. There is no television coverage, but radio listeners can tune in to: WMOH-AM 1450 (Hamilton), WFMG-FM 101.3 (Richmond), WDBZ-AM 1230 (Cincinnati), WONE-AM 980 (Dayton) or WKVB-AM 1490 (Richmond).