Kent St.-Rutgers Preview

The Associated Press

Rutgers' run defense is among the best in the nation, and is one reason the Scarlet Knights are unbeaten this late in a season for the first time in six years.

Kent State's ground game, meanwhile, has it on the verge of its longest single-season winning streak in 72 years.

The No. 18 Scarlet Knights will try to avoid becoming the latest Big East team to fall victim to a Mid-American Conference opponent as they host the upset-minded Golden Flashes on Saturday.

Rutgers (7-0) allows 69.1 rushing yards per game, tying Florida State for second in the nation. The Scarlet Knights have yielded only two rushing touchdowns, and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 11 games.

The defense dominated in nearly every facet in last weekend's 35-10 win over Temple, surrendering 191 total yards - 72 rushing - while forcing three turnovers.

Rutgers is 7-0 for the first time since winning its first nine games of 2006.

"I think what you see is a defense that's very stingy," said coach Kyle Flood, who is trying to become the first Rutgers coach to start his career 8-0. "You see a defense that's very determined to make people kick field goals.

"We are not going to concede touchdowns. Our defense is not going to do that. They take it very personally."

Rutgers may be in for a much stiffer test than originally expected against the Golden Flashes (6-1), who average 33.7 points and 210.4 rushing yards per game during their best start to a season since opening 7-1 in 1973.

Since suffering its lone loss at Kentucky, Kent State has averaged 238.0 rushing yards during a five-game win streak. The team hasn't won six in a row since a seven-game run in 1940.

The Scarlet Knights are also wary of the matchup since three Big East teams have lost to MAC opponents this season. That includes Toledo's upset of then-No. 21 Cincinnati last week, knocking the Bearcats out of the AP poll with their first loss of the season.

"I think every player in our program knows that, and I think they probably also know that Western Michigan beat UConn and Ball State beat South Florida," Flood said.

Kent State features an impressive backfield of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, who have 687 and 649 rushing yards, respectively, and 15 combined TDs.

Archer, who averages 10.1 yards per carry, is also a threat out of the backfield, catching 20 passes for 278 yards and three scores.

"What makes (Archer) spectacular is the combination of his speed and change of direction," Flood said. "If he gets through your first line of defense and into the open field, he's just a dynamic player. He's a one-step change of direction type of runner, and you'd better get him down early."

Archer and Durham were key in last week's 41-24 win over Western Michigan, combining for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Archer added 53 yards on four catches.

"I talked to Trayion this summer about being the closer," coach Darrell Hazell said. "For us having to win games in the fourth quarter, he's going to have to carry the ball eight to 10 times. He really took response to that. I think he's done an unbelievable job.

"Having the balance of those two guys makes it special. I think if you have only one of them, we're not as good as a football team."

The ground game is also important to the Scarlet Knights' success. Jawan Jamison leads the Big East with 779 yards and 177 carries. The sophomore totaled 114 yards on 19 rushes last week and had a 32-yard TD reception among his five catches.

Gary Nova tossed four touchdowns against Temple and leads the conference with 15. He had 11 TD passes in 10 games last season.

Rutgers has won both previous meetings with Kent State, the most recent coming in Piscataway, N.J. on Sept. 18, 2004.

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