College Football: 5 things to know about Miami vs. Kent State

Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard Miami cornerback Heath Harding puts a hit on Eastern Illinois running back Korliss Marshall during their game at Yager Stadium in Oxford Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.
Caption
Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard Miami cornerback Heath Harding puts a hit on Eastern Illinois running back Korliss Marshall during their game at Yager Stadium in Oxford Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.

Fans looking at Miami’s 2016 football schedule had every reason to lock in on the Kent State game and think, “Yes, that’s winnable.”

After all, the Golden Flashes finished 2015 with the same exact records as Miami’s – 3-9 overall, 2-6 in the Mid-American Conference. They hadn’t shown any signs of significant improvement in the early part of 2016, losing four of their first five games, including a 39-36, four-overtime loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team, North Carolina A&T State – at home.

The Golden Flashes have shown signs of life in the past two weeks – ironically, after starting quarterback Mylik Mitchell suffered a season-ending wrist injury in a 48-0 loss at No. 1 Alabama. Coach Paul Haynes turned to junior Nick Holley, a former running back who hadn’t played quarterback since his senior season at Toledo Whitmer High School, and all he’s done is become the first Kent State player since 1973 – 43 years ago – to be named the MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week in consecutive weeks.

The electrifying Holley, who led Kent State with 516 rushing yards in 2014, threw for 285 yards and rushed for 117 more and accounted for three touchdowns as the Golden Flashes came from behind to take a late lead against archrival Akron before losing, 31-27, on a Zips’ touchdown with 20 seconds left.

Holley followed up by rushing for a game-high 244 yards and four touchdowns and passing for 89 yards last Saturday in a 44-20 MAC win at Buffalo.

“They’ve been effective at quarterback the last couple of weeks,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said “We have to make sure to keep enough hats on them to stop the run. Normally, on defense, you like to have one more (helmet) in the box than they have. When you have a quarterback like Holley, that’s a problem.”

Miami’s defense ranks first in the MAC in total defense in conference games, allowing 248 yards per game.

Five things to watch on Saturday:

Twin threat: Nick Holley isn't the only Holley about whom Miami has to worry. His twin brother, Nate, leads the nation with an average of 9.5 solo tackles per game and ranks second in total tackles with an average of 14.3 per game.

Who's under center: Sophomore Billy Bahl could return to action against Kent State, but it's more likely that true freshman Noah Wezensky would make his his second career start at quarterback. Wezensky's stats in two games have been remarkably similar. After entering the game in the second half against Ohio, he went 14-of-25 for 154 yards and a touchdown. Last Saturday, at Akron, he was 14-of-28 for 153 yards and one touchdown.

Hands on: Kent State senior linebacker Najee Murray leads the nation in pass breakups after logging five at Buffalo.

Good luck: "If we want to win the game on Saturday, we've got to win the turnover battle," Martin said.

Kent State hasn’t committed a turnover in its last two games and ranks third in the MAC with a plus-three turnover margin. Miami ranks 10th in the 12-team conference at minus-five.

Ball control: One way to limit the Nick Holley threat is to keep the ball out of his hands. Miami has led four of its first six opponents in time of possession.

About the Author