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Kent coach hopes MU looking ahead

The Associated Press

KENT – Marshall’s showdown at Western Michigan next Saturday figures to be the game of the year in the Mid-American Conference, pitting the East and West division leaders.

Friday, November 05, 1999

KENT – Marshall’s showdown at Western Michigan next Saturday figures to be the game of the year in the Mid-American Conference, pitting the East and West division leaders.

It’s such a big game that Kent coach Dean Pees hopes Marshall takes two weeks to prepare for it.

That would leave little time for thoughts of his team and its home game this Saturday against the 13th-ranked Thundering Herd.

”All we can do is say, ‘Look, guys, we’re in a great situation here. We have nothing to lose. We’re 2-7, they’re undefeated. They’ve got a couple of big games left to go. We might be hitting them at a great time,”’ Pees said.

There are contrasts everywhere for the game at Dix Stadium. Kent (2-7, 2-4 MAC East) has lost 18 of its last 20 games while Marshall (8-0, 5-0 MAC East) won more games in 1997 and 1998 (22) than Kent has won this decade (15).

Representatives of the Fiesta Bowl will be on hand to scout Marshall, just in case the Herd wins out and finds itself moving up in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

For Kent, the game is a rare glimpse at what it’s like to be one of the sport’s elite teams.

”How many Fiesta Bowl representatives have been on this campus? Or in the MAC?” Pees asked. ”We’ve heard there’s going to be as many as seven to nine pro scouts here. We know why they’re here. The kids aren’t naive; the coaches aren’t naive. But at the same time we’re telling our players, ‘Hey, you want to have a chance to ever have somebody take a look at you? This is it.”’

Kent has four winless seasons and only one winning record since 1977.

”They’re No. 1 in the league in offense and defense and have great special teams, have a Heisman hopeful, they’re nationally ranked and undefeated,” Pees said. ”We’re trying to get a program rebuilt and reestablished, playing a lot of young kids. We just need to go in there loose.”

Another contrast is Kent’s Jekyll and Hyde act this season. On the road, the Golden Flashes have lost all five games by an average score of 40-9. At home, however, they’re 2-2 while averaging 30.3 points a game.

”They’re two different ballclubs,” Marshall coach Bob Pruett said. ”They play with more enthusiasm, more life, they play hard, they don’t get down when adversity strikes and they stay in the ballgame.”

Marshall will be without five starters, including leading rusher Doug Chapman and the top two tacklers. Chapman and two others are sidelined by injuries, one player is attending to family matters after his grandfather’s death and another is with his ill father.

”We expect a dogfight, especially without those five players,” Pruett said. ”We have a lot of concerns.”

Pruett might be overstating that. After all, Chapman’s replacement will be Llow Turner, who rushed for more than 100 yards last week and has more than 2,000 yards in his career.

The Herd still has quarterback Chad Pennington, who is completing 68 percent of his passes and has 26 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. Pennington, who has his own Web site to promote his Heisman candidacy, tops the MAC in pass efficiency and is second nationally.

”We’re capable of scoring points on any team we play,” wide receiver Nate Poole said. ”We’re playing some great ball right now and we’re going to try to keep that trend going.”

The defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the last 10 quarters, although John Grace and Andre O’Neal – the team’s top two tacklers – will be missed.

”Any team is good enough to beat us,” cornerback Danny Derricott said. ”It doesn’t matter what their record is. Kent probably is confident playing us this year. Last year we only had a 7-6 lead at the half, so they’ll probably remember that.”

Derricott’s recollection is a little foggy; Marshall actually led 6-0 at the half. The Flashes probably want to forget that the final score was 42-7.

”How far would it go to upset a team like this? Big. I mean, BIG,” Pees said. ”It would be a big momentum change for us. That might be the jump start we need. But it’s a monumental task.”