Being a fan of Mid-American Conference football, I'd heard all year about the defense of Kent State University. But I'm a person that until I see it, I won't believe it.
On Friday, I saw their defense. Now I'm a believer.
The Golden Flashes defense was the direct reason they defeated Ohio University, 28-6, and are the main reason they are heading to the Mid-American Conference championship Friday against Northern Illinois.
This team gets after the ball and makes it count. On every play the defense is high-powered, fast and ball hungry. That's what you want in a defensive unit.
Kent State came into Friday's game leading the country (all FBS schools) in turnover margin - which now stands at 38 turnovers caused by Kent to 15 turnovers lost. I thought those numbers had to be skewed. No way can a team have a 20-plus turnover margin. But again, I saw it with my own eyes, and saw how the Golden Flashes used it to their advantage.
On Ohio's first drive of the game, Poland alumni Luke Wollet recovered a fumble, which was caused by Kent State linebacker C.J. Malauulu. Wollet, a junior strong safety, picked up the fumble and dashed quickly 50 yards for the first Kent State score of the game.
Sometimes, teams that get one score from their defense, or even one big play, are content and then turn it over to the offense to do the rest of the work. Not Kent State. Its best offense on Friday was its defense.
Seven minutes later, Malauulu caused more havoc for the Bobcats, intercepting quarterback Tyler Tettleton, and returning the interception 33 yards for the touchdown. The linebacker from Oceanside, Calif., described the score as "a crazy play," and that he even surprised himself with that return.
While Malauulu was surprised with the pick-six, there should be no surprise that Kent State is representing the East Division in Detroit next week in the MAC Championship game. Not with the way this defense played on Friday, and how it has been playing all year.
Along with leading all Division I schools in turnover margin, the Golden Flashes are 21st in the country in recovered fumbles (13) and first in interceptions (22). Even when the defense wasn't making a big play or scoring a touchdown, it was causing numerous problems for Tettleton, who was sacked a season-high eight times on Friday for a loss of 80 yards.
It didn't even matter that Ohio actually outgained the Golden Flashes in passing yards (232 to 170) or in time of possession (Ohio had 33:27 to Kent's 23:49). The Golden Flashes kept the Bobcats out of the end zone, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters.
Now Kent doesn't have a cake walk in Detroit, as Northern Illinois is also 11-1 (8-0) heading into the title game. The Huskies are also ranked in the top 25, like Kent State. Prior to Friday's games, Kent State was sitting at No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, while Northern Illinois was No. 24. Both teams will likely move up this week.
The game will certainly be the best game in the MAC all season. And if the Golden Flashes can win in Detroit, and capture its first-ever MAC title, I will not be the only person that will be a believer in Kent State football.