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Eastern Michigan vs. Kent State Prediction: Golden Flashes' Bowl Hopes are on the Line on Wednesday Night Against the Eagles

MACtion serves up a must-win situation for Kent State while EMU can improve its postseason résumé.

The first game of the Wednesday MACtion tripleheader is a crossover matchup between Eastern Michigan and Kent State that has postseason implications for both teams.

Eastern Michigan (6-4, 3-3 MAC) is already bowl-eligible after last week's 34-28 victory over Akron. Now the Eagles have a chance of improving their standing in the conference's bowl pecking order as only two teams — East-leading Ohio and West champion Toledo — enter this week with seven wins on their résumé.

Meanwhile, Kent State (4-6, 3-3) needs this one if it wants any shot of going bowling. The Golden Flashes demolished Bowling Green 40-6 last week but have more work to do, starting at home against EMU on Wednesday night.

Kent State leads the head-to-head series 19-10 and has won the past two meetings (2019, '20). Each of the last three matchups has been decided by eight or fewer points, so perhaps both teams are in for another tightly-contested affair.

Eastern Michigan at Kent State

Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Kent State -7.5
Tickets: As low as $12 on SITickets.com*

When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball

Austin Smith got the call at quarterback last week against Akron and, after helping lead the team to a bowl-clinching, 34-28 win, he may get another start on Wednesday night. Smith was 16-for-28 for 190 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Although he only rushed for 18 yards on five carries against the Zips, he's capable of making things happen with his legs (4.3 ypc, 2 TDs).

But the main engine of EMU's offense is running back Samson Evans. Fourth in the MAC in rushing with 855 yards and second with 11 touchdowns on the ground, Evans went for 133 yards and two scores against Akron. He should find some running room against a Kent State defense that's giving up 160.2 rushing yards per game to MAC opponents. But it sure would help if the passing game could show up since the Golden Flashes rank second to last in conference play in that department at 272.5 yards per game, although they do have as many interceptions in as many games (six) as well.

When Kent State Has the Ball

The FlashFast offense was in good form last week, throwing and running for more than 200 yards in the 40-6 rout of Bowling Green. Collin Schlee threw three touchdown passes (with one interception) and ran for another score. He has missed some time due to injury but is third in the MAC in passer rating (136.8) and has a 12:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He's also second on the team in rushing with 403 yards and four touchdowns.

Kent State's leading rusher is Marquez Cooper, who is second in the conference in total yards (1,106) and just one of 18 FBS players who is averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game this season. He should be able to add to his numbers against an Eastern Michigan defense that is giving up 165 rushing yards per game in MAC play, although the Eagles aren't getting gashed on a per-carry basis (4.1).

Leading receiver Dante Cephas (48 rec., 744 yds., 3 TDs) tried to play last week after missing the previous game, but he limped off after recording just one catch and did not return. His status is very much up in the air for Wednesday night, but the Flashes have other options. Devontez Walker is just behind Cephas in both receptions (47) and yards (717), and he leads the conference with 10 touchdown catches, two of them coming last week against Bowling Green. Ja'Shaun Poke (23, 249) is another weapon, but he's missed four games due to injury.

Overall, EMU's defense is in the middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed per game (376.5 in conference games, sixth) but second to last in scoring (30.5 ppg). Two of the biggest culprits are an inability to get off of the field and prevent teams from scoring in the red zone. In MAC games alone, opponents are converting 40.5 percent of the time on third down (second to last in conference), and the Eagles have given up 23 scores on 24 trips inside the 20-yard line (15 touchdowns, 8 field goals). The former ranks second to last in the conference while the latter places them dead last in that category.

Final Analysis

Kent State clearly needs this game more than Eastern Michigan, and this is a good matchup for the Golden Flashes. Yes, the Eagles are already bowl-eligible, but don't forget that Kent State's record is largely due to a brutal non-conference slate that had the team facing Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia all on the road in September. Take those games out and you look at the Flashes differently — and their offense may be rounding into shape at just the right time. On the other side, EMU can run the ball effectively but doesn't possess the same balance on offense and its defense has had trouble stopping anyone. Even if Kent State isn't all full strength for this one, the FlashFast offense should do enough damage to earn the win and set the stage for a "bowling-or-bust" finale at Buffalo the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Prediction: Kent State 34, Eastern Michigan 28

*Price as of publication.