By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Kent State is one of only eight teams in the entire country to win 13 of its last 15 football games.
And it’s safe to say that none of the others — Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois, and Notre Dame — started last season 1-6 ... or have produced just three winning seasons in the past 35 years ... or have suffered through four winless seasons and six one-win campaigns during that same dreadful stretch ... or compiled a .259 winning percentage from 1978-2011 (96-274).
That’s why, when all things are considered, the Golden Flashes’ 13-2 record over the past two seasons has to be considered the most improbable — and, in some ways, most impressive — 15-game run in the country.
What spurned the stunning turnaround?
The mental adjustments were the most pivotal, as head coach Darrell Hazell slowly instilled a belief in his downtrodden troops that they can win. He also convinced them that they had to play as one unit, and put team goals ahead of individual success at all times.
The Flashes were a divided bunch midway through last season, mainly because their defense continued to play solid football every week while their offense continued to sputter.
So in order to truly bring the team together, the offense had to start pulling its weight.
In the first six games of the 2011 season, the Flashes averaged just 10.7 points and 180.6 yards of total offense per game. A well-chronicled switch on the offensive line during the bye week — Josh Kline was moved from right tackle to left guard, alongside star left tackle Brian Winters, while Kent Cleveland was moved to right tackle — gave KSU an immediate spark, and spearheaded the growth of an offensive monster.
In the past 15 games, Kent State is averaging 32.3 points and 387 yards of total offense per contest. The Flashes currently have two 1,000-yard rushers — sophomore Trayion Durham and junior Dri Archer — and rank 15th in the country in rushing offense (235.7 ypg) while averaging over 35 points and 402 yards of offense per outing in 2012.
The offense’s resurgence, combined with a still solid defense and spectacular special teams play, have made Kent State a complete team that feeds off big plays repeatedly generated in all three phases of the game.
“I love our locker room now,” said Hazell. “They’re all team-goal driven, and that’s the biggest thing you can feel from guy to guy. They have that sparkle in their eye about winning, and no one cares who gets the credit. You see it in their work habits, their practice habits, in the meeting rooms, all those things that make a championship football team.”
The Flashes can become a championship team on Saturday. With a victory at Bowling Green, Kent State clinches the MAC East Division championship and a bowl bid, and captures a spot in the MAC Championship Game against either Toledo or Northern Illinois.