TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into Alabama’s home matchup against Kent State, we enlisted a little help to get a feel for the Golden Flashes ahead of the game Saturday.
Jimmy Miller is a sports reporter with the Akron Beacon Journal, covering Kent State football this fall. He is also a senior journalism student at KSU and the editor of the school newspaper.
Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium is scheduled for noon ET on the SEC Network. Top-ranked Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) is coming off a 48-43 win against Ole Miss in its SEC opener. Kent State (1-2) defeated Monmouth 27-7 in Week 3.
Jimmy Miller, Akron Beacon Journal
Question: How do you think Kent State’s players will handle being on the big stage in Bryant-Denny Stadium?
Golden Flashes coach Paul Haynes doesn’t seem to think the stage will be a problem. Since he’s arrived on campus in 2013, his team’s played at LSU, Penn State (twice, including earlier this season), Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio State. Following their 27-7 win over Monmouth last week, he mentioned the large universities his team has traveled to and told reporters, “I don’t think we’ll be nervous.” He pretty much left it at that.
How the Flashes have fared under Haynes against Power Five conferences is a tossup. The Flashes lost 66-0 against the Buckeyes two years ago and 52-3 against the Fighting Illini last season, but just a few weeks after the Illinois drubbing, the Flashes dropped a close 10-7 loss to Minnesota. This year, they opened at Penn State and only faced a 16-13 deficit at halftime.
I don’t think the sold out Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd will bother the Flashes too much, it’ll just be Alabama’s pure talent. On a personal note, I don’t know the Flashes have played a team with this much depth. A familiar foe to Alabama — the Ohio State team in 2014 that won a national title — is undoubtedly the closest comparison to the Crimson Tide and is the only team, talent-wise, that rivals the Crimson Tide among Kent State opponents.
Q: For those who have never been, try to give us a sense of how Alabama coach Nick Saban is remembered at Kent State and how/if he’s still talked about in that area.
Miller: Saban’s got his own sandwich at a local grilled cheese place! Twisted Meltz has a menu with items named after noteworthy former KSU figures like Antonio Gates, Drew Carey, Joe Walsh, Lou Holtz, etc. Saban’s sandwich is made of angus beef, ghost pepper cheese, jalapenos, onion straws, tomato and spicy aioli. Oh, and you can add bacon for $1.49.
In all seriousness, Saban, a former KSU safety and graduate assistant coach, is obviously honored in other ways here. For example, Kent State’s athletic department inducted him into its Hall of Fame last year and there are pictures of him posted in the school’s M.A.C. Center, where the basketball and volleyball teams play. With the game approaching Saturday, people are talking more about Saban attending Kent State than I ever really recall. The university cherishes its history and its famous alumni, and Saban’s definitely a part of that, but as expected, this is the most talk about Saban’s ties to Kent State I’ve ever personally heard.
Q: Who are some Kent State players Alabama fans should know about?
Miller: The Flashes’ senior safety Nate Holley leads the nation in solo tackles. Three games into the season, he’s recorded 27 tackles on his own and he’s assisted in 20 others. Senior defensive lineman Terence Waugh is tied for 11th in the nation in the same solo tackles category, plus he’s recorded five quarterback sacks, eight tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. Senior linebacker Elcee Refuge has been involved in a turnover in every game this season, including his touchdown score on Waugh’s forced fumble against Penn State.
The offense is young but shows promise. The Flashes are starting redshirt freshman Mylik Mitchell, but he’s just one of three passers to play this season. True freshman Justin Agner started in the first week against the Nittany Lions, but he’s been injured since, and sophomore George Bollas has taken some reps from Mitchell. Haynes is a believer in using the non-conference schedule to test his players and see where they fit in — he deployed more than 60 players in the Penn State game. Expect to see multiple quarterbacks play Saturday, but Mitchell’s the starter and is also second on the team in rushing yards. Freshman running back Justin Rankin has rushed for 205 yards this year and leads the team out of the backfield. Junior receiver Nick Holley caught two touchdown passes last week and paces the receivers with 110 yards, but tight end Brice Fackler has also caught a pair of scores. Sophomore kicker Shane Hynes is pretty vital, too. He’s made seven of nine field goal attempts.
Q: What’s your feel for the game and prediction?
Miller: The betting spread is 41.5 points in favor of the top-ranked Crimson Tide, and Alabama hasn’t lost to a non-conference opponent since its playoff loss to the Buckeyes in 2014. The Flashes, on the other hand, are 0-12 against the SEC. These teams played in 2011, and the Crimson Tide had a 21-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
Alabama’s the defending national champion and Kent State lost to an FCS school (North Carolina A&T State, 39-36) two weeks ago. This game is on the road. Alabama hasn’t lost at home since last September. I respect the Flashes recovering from the loss to the Aggies and ousting Monmouth. Still, if I had to bet on this game, I know who I’d pick.