COLUMBUS — Kent State’s coach says he wants to rotate players to reduce the chances of injuries. The quarterback says the offense has been sloppy.
Those statements don’t exactly lead one to believe there’s a mammoth upset in the making as the Golden Flashes gird for today’s game with No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are on a roll and their defense ranks among the elite in the country.
“If I had my druthers I would definitely rather play this game early in the season,” Kent State coach Doug Martin said. “Especially from an injury standpoint. Us getting out of there healthy and being able to finish our conference is a major concern.”
The Buckeyes, 6-0 on the year and winners of their last 24 regular-season games, would also prefer to be continuing play in the Big Ten, where they share the lead heading into their five biggest games of their season.
Ohio State is a lopsided favorite heading into the game against Kent State, but the Buckeyes swear that doesn’t mean a thing.
While Michigan, USC, Louisville, Oklahoma and Wisconsin have been floored by upsets, the Buckeyes have been oblivious to the wackiness all around them.
“We really haven’t talked about the ranking. We really haven’t talked about the upsets and all that stuff that seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” coach Jim Tressel said. “We’ve talked a lot about getting better. That’s really been the focus of what we’ve talked about.”
Plopped right in the middle of both teams’ conference schedules, they find themselves playing a relatively meaningless game. The Buckeyes are hoping to stay in tune after rolling over Purdue last week. Kent State (3-3) finds itself playing for pride and hoping that a couple of hard hits don’t ruin the rest of its season.
Quarterback Julian Edelman directs a Golden Flashes offense that is averaging 25 points and 421 yards a game. Yet he concedes that they could be doing a lot more if they hadn’t coughed up the ball 17 times.
“Offensively, we’re sloppy,” he said. “We’re driving up and down the field on teams, but we’re turning the ball over at crucial times and not making plays when we need to make plays. We’re playing sloppy, we need to eliminate turnovers and make plays when we need to.”
Turnovers and sloppiness is no way to upend the Buckeyes, who have a defense that is giving up just 210 yards and 47 rushing yards per game (both second best in the nation).
The Buckeyes are big and mean. Meanwhile, Kent State’s key player is tailback Eugene Jarvis — all of 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds — who is averaging 142 rushing yards per game, fifth in the country.
“I watched them a couple of times,” he said of Ohio State’s defense. “I think they’re the No. 1 defense in the nation, or somewhere along that line. They have a good linebacking corps, good secondary, good defensive line. And they’re fast. This is definitely going to be a big challenge.”
No kidding. The Buckeyes recognize that the hardest part of their schedule awaits.
“It’s definitely going to get a little tougher,” offensive guard Steve Rehring said. “Coach Tressel has told us things about how many games the first six teams have won compared to the six teams that we have to play. It’s a big difference.”
After Kent State, the Buckeyes are: home with Michigan State (4-2), at Penn State (4-2), home with Wisconsin (5-1) and Illinois (5-1), and at Michigan (4-2). Those teams’ combined winning percentage: .733. The winning percentage of the teams so far: .528.
So this week’s game prepares the Buckeyes for Michigan State, and so on. At least that’s the selling job that Tressel’s doing this week. It appears his players have bought it.
“No game’s meaningless for us,” cornerback Shaun Lane said. “If we were to lose this game, we’d fall down the rankings. We take it the same as a Big Ten game.”
Still, don’t get the impression that Kent State’s waving a white towel. Martin said there’s a way for his team to win.
“We’ve got to do a great job of shortening the game, keeping the clock running and hope our defense can get it into the fourth quarter with a close enough score that we can then open it up and have a shot to win,” he said. “We’re not going to get up on Ohio State by two or three scores or anything like that. We’re going to have to come from behind and it’s going to have to be a close game late for us to have a shot.”
Martin said he doesn’t need a fiery speech to inspire his players, many of whom were born and raised in Ohio.
“Early in the season at Iowa State (a 23-14 upset win), that was a big deal for us because we were going to go get the first BCS-type win for Kent State since 1987. That was our motivation for that,” he said. “This one will take care of itself.”
WHO: Ohio State vs. Kent State
WHERE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
TV/RADIO: Big Ten Network; WEOL 930-AM, WKNR 850-AM