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2005 MAC Football Pigskin Preview
Kent State Golden Flashes
All-everything Josh Cribbs graduated leaving a huge void at QB. All Cribbs did was turn a broken play into a touchdown, and be responsible for 81% of Kent State’s offense last season. Cribbs has moved on to the NFL as a WR-"slash" prospect for the Cleveland Browns. With backup Antwan Smith transferring to a I-AA school, there is only one player, Tom Sitko, who has any experience. Sitko’s career passing stats are 1-4 with one INT. Enter JUCO transfer Michael Machen. The much traveled Machen originally started out at Alabama before playing minor league baseball. The 6-6 240-pound athlete did well at the JUCO level and enters the season as the starter. While unproven, Machen certainly brings in the physical attributes and athleticism of a big-time prospect. Sitko is pencil Ned in as the backup but several youngsters, including true freshman Jon Brown, are fighting for the backup role. Brown is an undersized prospect and through for nearly 8,000 yards in high school with 69 TDs. While there is raw talent at this QB position, there are several question marks for Coach Doug Martin and his staff entering the fall campaign.
With the graduation of Cribbs and RB David Alston (672 rushing yards in ’04), Kent State returns very little production to their running game. Luke Tillman returns to the RB position after playing TE/H-back last year. Tillman is a 210-pound workhorse who does have good speed looked great during spring drills. Sophomores Kevin Beverly and Jon Drager are also in the mix. Expect some true freshmen to contribute this season. Greg Keys (6-1, 205) was one of the top rated RBs in Ohio this past season and was a top track athlete in the state. Eugene Jarvis from Pittsburgh Central Catholic was signed late to the 2005 class and a true steal for the KSU program.
Cameron Bobb is the best WR in the league that no one knows of or talks about. If the 6-5 200-pound (4.45/40 speed) sophomore played on a more prolific offense, such as BG, Toledo or Miami, he would be compared to formed Marshall great Randy Moss. He needs to get the ball more than his 16 receptions he had as a freshman. Najah Pruden averaged nearly 14-yards per reception last season and at 6-3 185, is a terrific compliment to Bobb. Derrick Bush is the team’s leading returning receiver and has the ability to make plays. Bush will share duties with Tyrell McElroy, who may also line up at RB too. Brian Bell, Marcus Hill and Joey Barkus add quality depth as Kent’s WR corps is very comparable to some of the league’s top receiving units. Jake Parsons has terrific size at TE (6-6, 255) but has not been used a lot in the past. Nick Bigrigg and Mike Monfredi are the backups. Even with the graduation of leading receiver Darrell Dowery, this area of the offense is a team strength as seven players return who caught at least 10 passes in 2004.
The 2004 campaign started out a little rough for a young O-line unit but as the season went on they got a lot better. Dan Carter is the lone senior and a three year starter. He has excelled in run blocking. Shawn Donaldson and Craig Rafdal are two players with bright futures. Donaldson has bulked up to 285 pounds for the center position while Rafdal has 18 career starts. Rafdal will push for all-conference honors. Kiff Kinkead and Joe Marafine round out the starting rotation. The coaching staff is high on Travis McGraw, a 6-5 310-pound sophomore. Nate Manning, Michael Galassi, Jon English and Memel Dalton provide depth. Overall this offensive line should be very good this season.
The Golden Flashes defense made a major leap from 12th in the MAC for total defense in 2003 to 17th nationally in 2004 giving up just 311-total yards per game. This improvement began up front where the defensive line gave up just 111 yards rushing and KSU returns all three starters and several lettermen within the defensive trenches. Dan Muir (6-2, 265) and Roger Attieh (6-0, 290) are bona fide run stoppers while Colin Ferrell (6-1, 295) provides terrific depth within their DT/NG rotation. Nate Wesley (6-3, 280) and Prishod Koonce (6-4, 265) rotate at DE. Bruce Rice (6-1, 250) rotates from LB and DE and is a force at either position. KSU shaved off 90-yards per game last season in run defense and this unit looks to be among the league’s best. If Kent State’s defensive line continues to play at a high level as they did last season, this team should be in just about every game even if the offense sputters.
KSU recorded 34 QB sacks last season, an increase of 21 from 2003. Justin Parrish (6-3, 245) is a one-man wrecking machine as he had 14 QB sacks himself and 17.5 tackles for loss. He is an all-conference performer and will receive strong consideration for the defensive MVP award if he continues at this pace. Jon Sessler (6-2, 240) has good size and 77 tackles last season on his resume. Bruce Rice, who doubles as a DE, along with Jonathan Eggleston round out the starters in this 3-4 alignment. There is excellent depth with senior Marcus Robinson and underclassmen David Pilippi, Cedrick Maxell and Derek Burrell. Overall this unit should be one of the MAC’s better LB corps with several players who will receive all conference consideration.
Not long ago KSU’s DB unit was one of the leagues poorest units, which all changed last season as Kent State ranked 33rd in D-IA in pass defense giving up under 200-yards through the air. That is a terrific accomplishment given the number of pass happy teams in the MAC. During the final four games of 2004, Kent’s DBs produced 15 INTs. It certainly helped that the defensive line and linebackers were getting to the opposing QBs, but it also helped that this group got much better as the season wore on. Gone are Abram Elam and Andre Ashley who graduated. Jack Williams and Usama Young return as cornerbacks and collectively they produced over 65 tackles and 5 INTs. JUCO transfer James Brown is penciled in at SS along with Joshua Pastore. The FS will be Fritz Jacques and Andre Kirkland. While the overall DB unit lacks size (starters average 5-10, 177 per man), they do have a lot of speed and can tackle in the open field.
Travis Mayle went from being of the league’s best place-kickers to a shaky PK last season. Mayle was just 37-41 on PATs and 6-11 on FGs. If he gains his confidence back, he has the potential to be a very good kicker. Joshua Brazen averaged 40-yards per punt, but KSU finished 102nd in the nation in punt coverage, so either he needs more hang time on these kicks or the special teams unit needs to tackle better at the point of attack.
Believe it or not, but the Golden Flashes have the MAC's longest current win streak at 4 entering this season. This four-game winning streak stretch is the programs best since 1976. Doug Martin did a splendid job in his first year as head coach turning the team around from a 1-6 start to finish 5-6. In fact, KSU should have won four of those games and actually finished 9-2. Only Iowa and Miami (O) actually beat Kent State last year with any conviction, the other four losses were more of KSU finding ways to lose. Going into this season Kent State must replace an all-everything QB who accounted for 4/5 of their offense, find a reliable RB and hope their defense continues to play at a high level. Add to this a schedule that takes them on the road to face teams of their caliber, such as Ohio, EMU, WMU and Akron. All in all, Martin is doing a good job in a short amount of time to get this program to a higher level, but this season will likely be a step back before further progress is made. It’s very difficult to see this team winning more than three or four games unless Michael Machen proves to be a tremendous stud at QB.
Mark it down!
Kent State will not beat Michigan State to open the season but they will play the Spartans tough and the game will be much closer than the odds-makers state. KSU has a good enough defense to slow down a very erratic Spartan offense that averaged 29-points per game but finished 105th in the nation in turnover margin. MSU has a history of slow starts.
@ Michigan State - LOSS
vs. SE Missouri State - WIN
vs. Miami - LOSS
@ Ohio - LOSS
@ Eastern Michigan - LOSS
@ Navy - LOSS
vs. NIU - LOSS
@ Western Michigan - LOSS
vs. Bowling Green - LOSS
vs. Buffalo - WIN
@ Akron (Thanksgiving) - LOSS
2-9 Overall, 1-7 MAC