NCF Nation: David Oku
Arkansas State won the GoDaddy.com Bowl with a 17-13 win over Kent State on Sunday night in Mobile, Ala. The Red Wolves finished with a 10-3 record after winning the surprisingly low-scoring affair. Here’s how Arkansas State earned the 10th bowl victory in program history:
How the game was won: Physical defense from Arkansas State. The Red Wolves were able to corral Kent State’s dynamic duo of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, who each rushed for at least 1,200 yards this season. Archer was hampered by a knee injury for much of the game, losing his explosiveness after scoring an early touchdown and Durham was generally bottled up by the Arkansas State defense.
It was over when: Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith was stopped short on a fourth-down run as he tried to lead the Golden Flashes to a game-winning touchdown. It was yet another example of the strong defensive effort from Arkansas State on Sunday night.
Stat of the game: 3.4. That’s the yards-per-carry average for Durham, who entered the game averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 96 rushing yards per game. He finished the GoDaddy.com Bowl with 20 carries for 68 yards.
Game ball goes to: Qushaun Lee. The Arkansas State linebacker was all over the field, finishing with 13 tackles including the final fourth down stop on Keith. He was a key playmaker as the Red Wolves slowed a Kent State offense that entered the game averaging 34.6 points per game.
Unsung hero of the game: J.D. McKissic. Playing in his first bowl game, the redshirt freshman receiver was outstanding with 11 receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown for Arkansas State. He provided a dynamic target for senior quarterback Ryan Aplin throughout the night.
What it means: Arkansas State will enter the Bryan Harsin era with momentum. The former Texas offensive coordinator takes over as head coach after Gus Malzahn left for Auburn. The Wolves lose Aplin but running back David Oku, their leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards and McKissic, their leading receiver, return to form a solid foundation for 2013.
1. Who will stop the run?: Each team ranked in the top 21 in the country in rushing this season. Kent State is 10-0 when outgaining its opponents on the ground and has rushed for at least 300 yards as a team three times. The Golden Flashes didn't just do it against MAC opponents, either, as they ran for more than 240 yards against an outstanding Rutgers defense. They have two 1,000-yard backs in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. Arkansas State ran for more than 217 yards per game and has a 1,000-yard runner in Tennessee transfer David Oku. Kent State's rush defense numbers are a little better, but Arkansas State had to play both Oregon and Nebraska this year. Will either defense be able to slow down these rushing attacks? The Red Wolves have a far better passing game than Kent State with quarterback Ryan Aplin, whereas the Golden Flashes might run out of options if they can't run it.
2. Turnovers: This is always a major factor in any game, but especially one involving Kent State. The Golden Flashes were second in the nation in turnover margin and tied for the most takeaways with 38. They had 23 interceptions this season by 13 different players, including six by defensive linemen. Safety Luke Wollet leads the way with four picks, while two other players have three. Kent State has scored four defensive touchdowns this season. On the flip side, Arkansas State showed good ball security this season, turning it over only 14 times. Still, Aplin -- who threw only four interceptions in 376 pass attempts -- will have to be very wary of the aggressive ball-hawks on the other side.
3. The kicking game: Both teams run the ball well, play good defense and take care of the ball. That's why Arkansas State won the Sun Belt and Kent State came within a double-overtime loss in the MAC title game of making a BCS bowl. The difference, then, may come down to special teams. And the Golden Flashes appear to have an edge there. Archer is one of the nation's most dangerous return men, and the Red Wolves would be wise to kick it away from him. Arkansas State was last in the nation in punting and was also bad in the return game. Those extra yards of field position could mean a lot in a game that figures to be close.
WHO TO WATCH: Kent State's Dri Archer. He became the school's first ever consensus All-American, earning a spot as the returner/all-purpose player after leading the nation in kickoff returns at 38.2 yards per attempt. He has returned three of his 15 kicks for touchdowns. But Archer, who stands just 5-foot-8, is more than just a special-teams ace. He ran for 1,352 yards while averaging 9 yards per carry and piled up 15 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught 35 passes for 539 yards and four scores. Quite simply, Archer is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch.
WHAT TO WATCH: The offenses. Both teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing. Trayion Durham joined Archer as a 1,000-yard rusher for Kent State, which averaged more than 228 yards per game on the ground. Arkansas State piled up more than 217 rushing yards per game and has its own 1,000-yard back in David Oku. But the Red Wolves also have a strong passing game with Ryan Aplin, who threw for more than 3,000 yards with 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season. While the Kent State passing defense is vulnerable, the Golden Flashes were second in the nation with 23 interceptions.
WHY TO WATCH: These might not be name-brand programs, but this game features two good teams. Kent State won 10 games in a row before losing to Northern Illinois in double overtime at the MAC title game. Had the Golden Flashes pulled that game out, they likely would have made a BCS game instead of NIU. Arkansas State brings a seven-game winning streak into the game and won the Sun Belt title. In fact, both teams were so good that their head coaches got hired by bigger schools -- Kent State's Darrell Hazell by Purdue, Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn by Auburn. Hazell will still coach in this game, while defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as interim coach for the Red Wolves, who also lost head coach Hugh Freeze before last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl. Kent State is playing in its first bowl game in 40 years. Both teams have exciting offenses. Purdue fans will want to get a look at their future coach. And this is the second-to-last college football game we'll see until next August. Enjoy it.
PREDICTION: Kent State 31, Arkansas State 28. The Red Wolves have a more balanced offense, but the Golden Flashes faced better competition in a terrific year for the MAC. They also have had more stability during bowl preparation as Hazell admirably stayed aboard to finish off this historic season for the program. Kent State has been great at coming up with turnovers all year and will do the same in Mobile, Ala. That and some big plays from Archer will be just enough.
Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET, Mobile, Ala. (ESPN)
Kent State take by WolverineNation's Chantel Jennings: When Kent State coach Darrell Hazell went 5-7 in his first year, bringing the school four conference victories, it was considered a success. But if that was impressive, then what he did this season was downright Cinderella-like. Hazell led his team to the MAC championship game, and mounted a 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime before falling to Northern Illinois. On top of that, Hazell was named MAC coach of the year.
Defensively, Kent State held opponents to just more than 25 points per game, holding strong up front while giving up 277 yards per game through the air, putting the Golden Flashes at 11th in the MAC in pass defense. Those struggles were evident throughout the season, especially in a 33-point loss to Kentucky.
But it was Kent State’s offense that got it done this season, and no surprise since Hazell comes from an offensive background. Kent State’s run game was able to more than make up for an up-and-down passing season from senior quarterback Spencer Keith. The Golden Flashes featured two 1,000-yard rushers: junior Dri Archer and sophomore Trayion Durham. The two accounted for 29 touchdowns and 88 percent of Kent State’s rushing attack. With that production, Kent State finished 17th in the FBS in rushing yardage per game.
Arkansas State take by SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Red Wolves captured their second straight Sun Belt Conference championship for the first time since 1985-86 with a season-ending 45-0 win against Middle Tennessee.
Malzahn and his explosive offense guided Arkansas State to a 9-3 season after starting 2-3. Arkansas State ranked second in the Sun Belt and 17th nationally in total offense, averaging 481.8 yards per game. Quarterback Ryan Aplin broke his own school record for touchdown passes in a season with 23, and finished second in the Sun Belt with 3,110 passing yards.
Running back David Oku’s 1,043 rushing yards made the Red Wolves the only other team in the Sun Belt other than Troy to have a quarterback throw for 3,000 yards and have a running back rush for 1,000.
Arkansas State finished the season on a seven-game winning streak.
Every team in the SEC has lost at least one player since the end of last season for a variety of reasons. Some have been kicked off the team for getting into trouble. Others were unhappy with playing time and opted to transfer elsewhere. Academics and injuries have also played a role.
Here's a team-by-team list of some of those players who've left prematurely since the end of last season or were injured and won't be on the field in 2011:
- TE Ryan Calendar
- PK Eddie Camara
- OG Cam Feldt
- LB Austin Moss
- C Seth Oxner
- WR Lance Ray
- RB Mike Blakely
- WR Chris Dunkley
- CB Janoris Jenkins
- WR Javares McRoy
- LB Marcus Dowtin
- RB Washaun Ealey
- WR Logan Gray
- DE Jeremy Longo
- S Nick Williams
- LB Michael Hunt
- S Dennis Thames
- WR Jesse Grandy
- LB Clarence Jackson
- DE Delvin Jones
- QB Nathan Stanley
- CB Ted Meline
- RB David Oku
- C Cody Pope
- OL Kevin Revis
- QB Charlie Goro
It's not a big surprise that Oku is leaving. He'd fallen down the depth chart last season, and his role on the team was limited. He was a highly rated prospect when he signed with the Vols during Lane Kiffin's only signing class at Tennessee in 2009.
Oku plans to transfer following the spring semester, but will not participate in any more foootball activities with the Vols.
"David has handled this situation in a professional way, and we mutually agreed that this departure is best for him and for our program,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
These post-signing day decisions are turning up roses for Tennessee's football team.
Running back Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., announced Monday that he was signing with Tennessee during a press conference at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Brown was rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 2 running back prospect in the country and the eighth-best prospect overall in the ESPNU 150 rankings.
Brown joins running back David Oku as a pair of highly rated players signing late with the Vols, which only strengthens what was already a Top-15 class by first-year coach Lane Kiffin. Oku, who recently moved from Midwest City, Okla., to Lincoln, Neb., was rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 13 running back prospect in the country.
If Brown turns out to be half as good a player as his recruitment has been bizarre, then the Vols are in for a treat.
Brown had been committed to Miami since last year, but opened up his recruitment and elected not to do anything on national signing day. He took additional visits, including trips to LSU and Tennessee, and was evasive about what his plans were.
He has an adviser, Brian Butler, who runs the show. And it's definitely been a show.
Butler is a former rapper and cell phone call center manager who advises, trains and handles all media requests for a group of players, including Brown.
The New York Times reported last month that the NCAA was investigating Butler, including his relationship with Brown. At one point, Butler was charging money for people to get updates on Brown's recruitment via a Web site, Potentialplayers.com. The Web site is still up and running, but Butler is no longer charging for the updates.
Butler also discussed the possibility of sending Brown straight to the CFL during the recruiting process, but that talk died down. Miami pulled out of the running and reportedly rescinded its scholarship offer, but an assortment of schools -- LSU, Kansas State, Oregon and Tennessee -- all continued to actively pursue Brown.
And on Monday, Brown ended this recruiting circus (aren't they all?) by saying he would sign with the Vols.
He's obviously a terrific player and is the kind of talent that could be a difference-maker immediately this fall when he gets on campus.
But with the NCAA poking around on his adviser, you can't help but wonder if he's worth the risk.
We'll find out soon enough.
• Syracuse's hopes of landing running back David Oku seem to have taken a nosedive after the news that Oku has moved to Lincoln, Neb.
• Pat White has gained 14 pounds since the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Drew Rubenstein writes in the Dominion Post.
• The Star-Ledger's Tom Luicci analyzes the three finalists in Rutgers' athletic director search -- and what each might mean to the football program.
• South Florida's Jim Leavitt is the seventh-longest tenured head coach in the FBS, according to one site.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
What does the future hold for Jock Sanders after his DUI arrest? Bob Hertzel explores the question in the Times West Virginian.
"The easy path is just to say sayonara and expect him to serve as example to others, but how many guys has (Bill) Stewart already kicked off the team, only to find that it has served not as a deterrent at all?"
- Brian Kelly's firing of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey came as a surprise, and Kelly is now in a hurry to find a replacement, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"This has got to happen very quickly because we've got players that need to be acquainted with a new system," Kelly said. "We're up against it on a time line. If you thought it out and planned it out you wouldn't plan it having such a short turnaround time."
- South Florida could be stuck playing two FCS opponents this season because Florida International bought out of its game, Greg Auman says in the St. Petersburg Times.
- Donnie Webb has some Syracuse football nuggets in his Syracuse Post-Standard blog, including word of another delay in David Oku's decision.