If only it hadn’t been Akron.
Ordinarily this would have given Kent State some hope. Fellow MAC program Akron, regarded as one of the weakest teams in the country, went into the Big House last week and was one play away from upsetting venerable Michigan.
“It was definitely a good game, but I’ll never be rooting for Akron ‘til the day I die,” Kent State wideout Chris Humphrey said with a smile about the in-state rival. “They fell short and I was happy about it.
“But you like to see a MAC team compete with those big guys. It gives us confidence, but it’s not going to alter the way we prepare.”
Regardless of the animosity, it’s not a bad example for the Golden Flashes to follow, coming off a game at LSU with another tough test this weekend at Penn State.
“Tough place. Tough environment. Tough football team,” Kent State coach Paul Haynes said. “That’s what we’ve been dealing with the past few weeks and we’re looking forward to it.
“To go into those big venues and play and play against the bigger schools, our guys look forward to it. A great challenge, but it’s fun, too.”
It would be more fun for the Flashes if they were at full strength.
Haynes hasn’t had it easy in his first season as a head coach. He inherited a program that was one of the country’s biggest surprises last season, winning 11 games and coming close to an unbelievable BCS berth before losing the MAC title game.
Coach Darrell Hazell left for the Big Ten to take over at Purdue. His replacement was Haynes, who had been on staff at Ohio State for seven years — working with Hazell — before serving a year at Arkansas as defensive coordinator.
Now, two of the biggest reasons for the Flashes’ success in 2012 are banged up as they prepare to travel to Happy Valley.
Slotback Dri Archer — a first-team All-American as a junior and dynamic as any player in the Big Ten — has been slowed by an ankle injury suffered in the Flashes’ opener. He may not be able to play Saturday.
Undersized but highly productive defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix has been dealing with back issues but is expected to give it a go against the Nittany Lions.
Archer is the Flashes’ best player by far, having led the team in rushing (1,429) and receiving (561) yards a year ago while also returning three kickoffs for touchdowns.
He tried to play against the Tigers this past weekend but wasn’t able to stay on the field, finishing with just one catch for 7 yards.
“Dri is kind of back to where we’ll see on Saturday how he feels,” Haynes said. “He played about seven plays (against LSU) and didn’t feel great out there.
“We’ll assess him as the week goes on. He’s probably doubtful.”
Starting nose tackle Nate Terhune had surgery for a broken fibula on Monday and is out. Offensive linemen Pat McShane and Jason Bitsko are also banged up.
With conference play upcoming for Kent State, Haynes figures to play it safe Saturday and rest a few of those players. But it won’t keep the Flashes from dreaming big.
“If the stars align, it can happen. We can beat those kind of teams,” kicker Anthony Melchiori said. “You saw Akron and Michigan on Saturday. Akron gave Michigan a pretty good game. We need to take games like that and bring that to our own mentality — have the mindset that we can beat teams from the Big Ten.”