But Kent State coach Jim Corrigall doesn't believe

By Allen Moff Record-Courier sports writer Published:

But Kent State coach Jim Corrigall doesn't believe his squad is one of them.

"We know what we're in for," said Corrigall, whose Golden Flashes will play the first divisional game in Mid-American Conference history against the Bobcats at sold-out Peden Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

"I see a packed house. I see a field that will be a quagmire by the second half. I picture a very intense crowd and a difficult environment. But you know what? We'll be glad to be there.

"Playing your first game on a Thursday night on the road against a conference opponent scares a lot of people, but I love it. We'll see what we're made of right away."

Indeed, they will.

The Bobcats, coming off their best season in 13 years (6-6, 5-3 MAC), head into their most highly-anticipated campaign in well over a decade with a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball.

Offensively Ohio U. will once again run the dreaded triple-option, with quarterback Kareem Wilson (5-foot-7, 190) and fullback Steve Hookfin (6-1, 210) carrying the bulk of the load.

As sophomores, Wilson (1,315 yards) and Hookfin (1,127) became just the 24th tandem in NCAA history to rush for over 1,000 yards each. The Bobcats rushed for 3,289 yards as a team in '96, sixth-best in the nation, while Wilson attempted just 90 passes.

The duo was at its best against Kent State a year ago, as Hookfin rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns while Wilson added 147 yards and one score in Ohio's 24-15 victory at Dix Stadium. And those memories are still fresh in Corrigall's mind.

"(Hookfin) is a concern, and (Wilson) is a concern," said Corrigall. "The thing is, they'll run the ball and run the ball then run a wheel route (pass play) when you least expect it."

The Bobcats did lose four starters on the offensive line. However, the Flashes also have concerns on their defensive front.

Projected starting tackles Shawn Thompson (back) and Mack Warren (knee) will both miss the opener, but are expected to return for game two against Youngstown State. Still, that won't do Corrigall any good on Thursday.

"Mack was our best lineman in camp and Thompson has started the past two years," said Corrigall. "So without them, our line is a concern, But the other kids will step in and play to the best of their abilities, and I believe they'll do a good job."

Sophomore Brad Hartman (6-4, 270) and junior Dejon Young (6-1, 273) will start at the tackles, while former Southeast High School standout Jason Pence (6-3, 255), a redshirt freshman, should also see his first collegiate action.

In all, six new starters and a slew of other new faces will take the field for the Flashes defensively. And Corrigall is anxious to see how much improvement his revamped defense shows over last year.

"We will be improved, but how much remains to be seen," said Corrigall. "We'll see what the lay of the land is on that side of the ball on Thursday."

But while the defense remains a question mark, Kent State's offense enters the season oozing with confidence. Senior tailback Astron Whatley, junior quarterback Todd Goebbel, junior wide receiver Eugene Baker and senior linemen Bob Hallen and Steve Zahursky anchor a unit capable of inflicting heavy damage on anyone in the MAC.

"We felt last year that Kent had one of the best offenses in the league," said Ohio U. coach Jim Grobe, "and that if they ever put their defense together, they'd be a great football team. Offensively, we know they're good, and defensively we really don't know what to expect. They're a dangerous team."

But the Bobcats' defense is dangerous as well. Eight of 11 starters return from a unit that finished first in the MAC in total defense a year ago (305 yards allowed per game), including the top three tacklers _ junior free safety Dennis Fitzgerald (5-10, 200), junior linebacker Tom Carder (6-1, 210) and senior linebacker Andre Jackson (5-11, 225).

And Ohio U. will be sky-high for its home opener.

"Last year, we played Akron on a Thursday night (season-opener) and that was certainly an exciting time," said Grobe, whose Bobcats ambushed the Zips, 44-14. "This year we open with Kent in our first East Division game, which makes it even more interesting. Everybody's excited about Thursday."

Everyone including Corrigall, who believes the fans at Peden Stadium will certainly get their money's worth.

"In my mind, it's going to be a wide-open, high-energy football game," said Corrigall, "It'll be like a track meet, back and forth. Both defenses will certainly be tested."

GAME NOTES

Ohio U. leads the all-time series, which dates back to 1936, 29-17-2

... Kent State has never won a road game under Corrigall, but the

Flashes' lone non-loss occurred in 1995 at Peden Stadium when Kent State

and Ohio U. battled to a 28-28 tie ... Thursday's game will kickoff the

75th anniversary of football at Kent State ... The Flashes haven't

played a Thursday game since 1976, when they defeated Northern Illinois,

42-0, on Thanksgiving day ... Whatley rushed for over 200 yards against

Ohio U. in '94 and '95, but was held to 44 yards on 16 carries a year

ago ... the Bobcats are a 17-point favorite according to

oddsmakers.

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