Golden Flashes ready for Arkansas State tonight
MOBILE, Ala. – Arkansas State’s Ryan Aplin owns nearly every school passing record after four productive seasons for the Red Wolves.
For his final game, the senior quarterback will get quite a test from No. 25 Kent State’s gambling defense when the two teams meet on Sunday in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
The Golden Flashes are tied for the top spot in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 38 forced turnovers and a plus-21 turnover margin, thanks to an aggressive defensive scheme that’s helped Kent State (11-2) go bowling for the first time in 40 years.
Aplin – who has seen plenty of defenses geared to stop his passing game over the years – says he’s never seen a defense quite like Kent State’s.
“They’ve forced 38 turnovers which averages to about three per game and that’s just ridiculous,” Aplin said. “In a big game like this, you can’t afford to give somebody momentum and they certainly feed off of it. When they get those turnovers their offense almost always goes down the field and scores.”
Kent State coach Darrell Hazell admits that his high-risk, high-reward has a tendency to give up some big plays in the passing game. And they’ll have to be very careful against a quarterback like Aplin, who has 10,545 passing yards, 66 passing touchdowns and 31 rushing touchdowns in his decorated career.
“We’re going to have to be disciplined with our reads,” Hazell said. “It’s going to be a great football game.”
The Golden Flashes have taken a huge step forward in their second season under Hazell, breaking the school record for wins and advancing to college football’s postseason for the first time since 1972.
Arkansas State (9-3) won its second straight Sun Belt championship this season under coach Gus Malzahn, ending the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. The Red Wolves haven’t lost since a setback to Western Kentucky on Sept. 29.
But the price of that success means both programs have already lost their coaches to bigger programs. Hazell has been hired by Purdue – though he’s staying to coach in Sunday’s bowl game – while Malzahn took the Auburn job. The Red Wolves will be coached by defensive coordinator John Thompson.
It’s the second straight season Arkansas State has had to deal with a coaching transition while preparing for the GoDaddy.com Bowl. After last season’s Sun Belt title, coach Hugh Freeze left to take the Mississippi job and the Red Wolves ended up losing to Northern Illinois.
Aplin said the team should handle the adversity better this season, but he didn’t deny the transition is hard.
The quarterback is the unquestioned leader of the Red Wolves’ offense, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes this season for 3,129 yards, 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed for 443 yards and six touchdowns.
“You never really completely adjust (to a coaching change),” Aplin said. “You get close with people on a personal level and it makes it hard. You’d think after going through it a few times you’d be used to it, but you really don’t. It’s just one of those things that you’ve got to come together as a team and our assistants have been awesome at making sure we’re staying together.”
Hazell has spent the past month split between preparing Kent State for a bowl game and beginning to build his program at Purdue. He said it’s been hectic, but it’s important that he stayed with the Golden Flashes to finish what’s been a historic season.
He expects emotions to be high on Sunday.
“Right now it’s fine,” Hazell said. “But Sunday night I’m sure it will be a little different. There’s so much going through my head right now. It’s the last time I’ll really spend with these guys who have really changed the culture at Kent State. That’s pretty amazing.”
Kent State’s offense is powered by a productive running game, led by Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. Archer is a speedy 5-foot-8, 175-pounder who has rushed for 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns this season while Durham is the power option, a bruising 250-pound sophomore back who has gained 1,248 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.