A month ago it looked like the Golden Flashes' season was going nowhere.
Kent State had lost six of its first seven games and was 0-3 in the Mid-American Conference. The offense was struggling, the line couldn't protect the quarterback or generate a running game. Making matters worse, there were hints of dissension between the offense and the defense, whose players were tired of seeing their steady work not pay off in wins.
The outlook around the program is much different as the Golden Flashes head down the stretch. A 35-3 win over archrival Akron gave Kent State a three-game winning streak. The Golden Flashes are 3-3 in the MAC East and 4-6 overall.
First-year coach Darrell Hazell remained optimistic even when his team was at its lowest point. It now appears his words are paying off.
"I'm so proud of this program, the players and the coaching staff," Hazell said. "We had our backs against the wall a few weeks ago, but we just keep scrapping."
Kent State held a narrow 6-3 lead at halftime before dominating the final two quarters. The Golden Flashes, who had been outscored 57-19 in the third quarter going into the game, put 20 points on the board while holding Akron scoreless.
The win also kept the Wagon Wheel, the trophy the teams play for annually, in Kent State's possession for the second straight year.
Kent State still has a mathematical shot at winning the MAC East, even though it's a slim one. The Golden Flashes trail first-place Ohio by a game and second-place Temple by a half-game. Kent State and Miami are tied for third.
The Golden Flashes would also be bowl eligible if they win their final two games. Kent State hosts Eastern Michigan on Saturday and will face a tough test at Temple on Nov. 25.
--Kent State's running game has been the difference in its three-game winning streak. The Golden Flashes shredded Akron for a season-high 265 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. Kent State has gained 546 rushing yards in its last three games.
--Kent State's defense held Akron to 223 yards of total offense, including 58 on the ground. The Golden Flashes had two sacks. Defensive lineman Richard Gray had his first career sack.
--Safety Luke Wollet, one of the top players on Kent State's defense, returned two punts against Akron, including one that went for 20 yards. KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Spencer Keith
-- He didn't put up big numbers against Akron, but was the model of efficiency. Keith completed 11 of 16 passes for two touchdowns and 115 yards. He didn't throw an interception for the third straight game. It's not a coincidence the Golden Flashes have won all three games. Keith also had a run of 54 yards against the Zips.
LOOKING GOOD: After racking up penalties at an alarming rate in their previous games, the Golden Flashes were penalized just three times -- for a chop block after kicking off, interfering with a punt returner and a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown. Those penalties didn't come until the fourth quarter with Kent State holding a 32-point lead. The Golden Flashes had been called for 63 penalties totaling 626 yards going into the game.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Freddy Cortez was 13-for-14 on extra points going into the game, but he had a tough day against Akron. Cortez missed one extra point and had two others blocked. These types of breakdowns shouldn't be happening in the 10th game of the season. Cortez did hit a 46-yard field goal, his longest of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys are excited to play at practice and we just go out there every day and have fun. It's a lot more fun when you're winning." -- Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith, in the Akron Beacon Journal, on the Golden Flashes' three-game winning streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL PLAYER NOTES:
--RB Trayion Durham, a true freshman, has taken the No. 1 job and run away with it. He gained a career-high 107 yards on 24 yards with two touchdowns against Akron.
--WR Chris Gilbert caught only two passes against Akron, but made the most of his work. Gilbert averaged 29 yards on his catches and had one touchdown.
--LB Luke Batton recorded seven solo tackles against Akron and led the team with eight total stops.
--DE Roosevelt Nix, despite playing with a back injury, had six tackles against Akron, including 1 12 for a loss of yardage. Nix also batted down two passes while putting a strong rush on the quarterback.
--P Matt Rinehart kicked four times for a 40.8 yard average, including a long punt of 53 yards. Rinehart had one punt inside the 20-yard line and none of his kicks were returned.
--S Calvin Tiggle, who is fourth on the team with 52 tackles, returned to play against Akron. He missed the Central Michigan game because of a leg injury.
--DE Rossevelt Nix was treated for back spasms throughout the Akron game. He's also been playing with turf toe all season.
--LS Ryan Hidalgo suffered what appeared to be a season-ending knee injury against Alabama in the opener, but there is some hope he will return. The senior has been Kent State's long snapper the last three seasons.