November 5, 2009

Flashes benefit from swing in field position

Former Cleveland Indians infielder Toby Harrah once compared baseball statistics to women's swimwear.

"They both show a lot, but not everything," he said.

The same can be true about football stats, except in the case of the Kent State football team.

Thanks to a major improvement in several statistical categories from the 2008 season, the Golden Flashes last week improved to 5-4 overall and 4-1 in the Mid-American Conference. They are just three wins away from their first MAC title since 1972.

Most of Kent State's statistical improvements have had a major impact in the battle for field position. That's a battle the Golden Flashes have won more often than not as they have outscored their opponents, 192-185, this season.

"It's all field position," said Kent State head coach Doug Martin. "A lot of them were special teams. I think most of that has been upgrades in recruiting."

It started with bringing in sophomore punter Matt Rinehart last season and the emergence of freshman kicker Freddy Cortez this year. Kent State's punting has improved from sixth in the MAC last year to second in the league through nine games this season. Cortez has provided the Flashes with almost an automatic three points from inside the opponents' 30-yard line and his accuracy in executing the Flashes' sky kickoff has the unit leading the nation in kickoff return defense, allowing just 14.68 yards per return.

"Our kicking game, obviously Freddy we talked about, but Rinehart's been pretty consistent and our coverage teams have been really good," Martin said. "That's where all that field position stuff starts."

The return game also is vastly improved and has resulted in one kickoff return for a touchdown by Anthony Bowman and several long returns by freshman Dri Archer and punt returners Eugene Jarvis and Leneric Muldrow.

"Anthony Bowman and Dri Archer giving us kick returners that can do something for us that have flipped field position on kickoff returns. Eugene Jarvis, obviously early on as a punt returner was dynamic and Leneric has picked up the pace there and we've been really good on punt returns," Martin said.

The defense has done its part too. The Flashes rank fifth in total defense after ending last year seventh in the league-and that's after giving up 1,100 yards in their first two league games. Even more importantly, the unit leads the MAC with 30 sacks-10 more than any other team-and tackles for loss. Last season, the Flashes finished seventh and fifth, respectively in those categories.

"I think our defense causing a lot of tackles for loss, a lot of sacks and things like that, we're able to get people in third-and-long quite a bit and that's flipping the field position also," Martin said.

Offensively, the Flashes have had their ups and downs. During their current three-game win streak it has been more of the former, but Martin still is concerned about his team's turnovers.

"The only negative of all that stuff is our turnovers on offense," he said. "We're still turning the ball over probably right at two a game, maybe a little more than two times a game. That's something that's still pretty discouraging to me that we haven't gotten matured past that. Other than that, we've done a good job in all those areas."

The Flashes' offensive line also has done a better job of protecting the quarterback. After ranking eighth last year in sacks allowed, Kent State is third in the MAC this season, allowing just 12 sacks.

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