With just nine wins in three seasons, head coach Paul Haynes is squarely on the hot seat at . The Golden Flashes welcome back 17 starters from 2015's 3-9 team, including eight on a defense that ranked among the top in the MAC. The key to a significant turnaround, however, is getting more out of an offense that struggled mightily to move the ball or score last season.
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Previewing Kent State’s Offense for 2016
Nine starters return on this unit, but optimism about 2016 should be tempered by the fact that Kent State ranked 127th in the nation in total offense last season at 270.8 yards per game. That spoiled a solid defensive effort and doomed the Golden Flashes to their third consecutive losing season and a tie for last place in the MAC East.
An early season injury to 2014 leading rusher Nick Holley and an ineffective Trayion Durham at fullback meant Kent State needed to pass more to move the ball. That failed miserably, as quarterbacks Colin Reardon and George Bollas completed only 51 percent of their passes and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine). KSU finished No. 121 nationally in passing efficiency.
Reardon and Bollas are back, but coach Paul Haynes hopes that redshirt freshman Mylik Mitchell or true freshman Justin Agner will emerge in fall camp. Reardon played some at receiver in the spring.
Improvement at quarterback could mean a relative resurgence on offense, because many playmakers are back. Holley returns at tailback, and quality backups Myles Washington, Will Matthews and Justin Rankin are behind him. In addition, Kent State has recruited well at receiver and tight end in recent years. The top nine pass catchers are back, led by Antwan Dixon, Kris White, Ernest Calhoun, Johnny Woods and converted running back Raekwon James.
The offensive line returns four of five starters. Seniors Reno Reda and Wayne Scott and juniors Nathan Puthoff and Brock Macaulay are building blocks.
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Previewing Kent State’s Defense for 2016
This unit is loaded with eight returning starters and plenty of reserves who saw productive time in 2015. That defense was dominant at times last season and finished No. 27 nationally in total yards allowed at 350.1 per game.
The top returnees are three first-team All-MAC performers: end Terence Waugh, free safety Nate Holley (Nick’s twin brother) and corner Demetrius Monday. Waugh led the team in tackles for a loss (12) and sacks (9.0) despite missing two games with injuries. Holley led in tackles (141), and Monday led in interceptions (six).
The front four also brings back Chris Fairchild, Jon Cunningham and Theo Eboigbe. The linebacking corps will miss Matt Dellinger in the middle, but productive senior Elcee Refuge will move there from the outside.
Holley and Monday give Kent State a secondary that has the potential to be one of the conference’s best. In addition, senior Najee Murray (team-high nine pass breakups) is a returning starter at the Apache position, a combination of corner and linebacker.
Previewing Kent State’s Specialists for 2016
The state of the Kent State offense is reflected in the fact that returning placekicker Shane Hynes led the team in scoring with 34 points. He did that despite not coming close to overusing his leg, attempting only 13 extra points, making them all, and hitting 7-of-11 field goals. One of the best punters in school history, Anthony Melchiori, is gone, leaving the position up for grabs.
Haynes is popular in the Kent State community, but this may be his make-or-break year. His 9–26 record in three seasons puts him squarely on the hot seat.
It is not an overstatement to say that the success of this team rests on improvement at quarterback. More mediocrity at the position would doom the offense to another season of frustration despite the presence of an experienced line and playmakers at running back, tight end and receiver. The defense likely will continue to be a strength, but there is always the uncertainty of whether the success of 2015 can be duplicated, especially since there is a new coordinator in Ben Needham.