|Arkansas State celebrated its first bowl victory as an FBS member with the 17-13 victory against Kent State. (US Presswire)|
ARKANSAS STATE WON. Under the direction of defensive coordinator John Thompson -- serving as interim head coach after the departure of Gus Malzahn to Auburn -- the Red Wolves' defense turned in one of its best performances of the season in a surprisingly low scoring affair with Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday night.
Both teams averaged more than 34 points per game in the regular season, but the conflicting styles and speeds of Arkansas State and Kent State resulted in a slower-paced game with much fewer fireworks. Kent State running back and all-purpose threat Dri Archer was nagged by a knee injury all night. And while he did rush nine times for 77 yards, he was unable to play in the final minutes as Kent State failed to score a go-ahead touchdown.
HOW ARKANSAS STATE WON: The bend-but-don't-break mentality of the Arkansas State defense worked well against Kent State, which struggled to move the chains when it counted. The Golden Flashes converted on just three of their 15 third downs, constantly finding themselves in a frustratingly predictable passing situation. The long third downs were aided by seven accepted penalties that suggested there has been some rust accumulation since the MAC championship.
Ryan Aplin was the superior quarterback in this matchup, completing 21 of 30 passes for 213 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The Red Wolves struggled to keep moving the chains throughout the game, but the defense was playing so well it only required a few strong drives to total the winning score. From the second quarter into the third, Arkansas State scored on every significant drive. The two touchdowns at the end of the first half quickly changed the tone and scene of the game. Once Aplin delivered the go-ahead score, the defense turned up the pressure and never again let Kent State into the end zone.
WHEN ARKANSAS STATE WON: Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith struggled to get on the same page as his receivers throughout the night but hung in the pocket just long enough to connect with Matthew Hurdle for a 15-yard pass on fourth-and-8 in the final minutes. Unfortunately for Kent State, the same issues reoccured right after the big play. A pair of incompletions set up a Keith scramble on another fourth down. Arkansas State brought him down three yards short of the first down, and the Red Wolves began to celebrate.
WHAT ARKANSAS STATE WON: Every bowl can either be viewed as the final game of 2012 or the first game of the 2013 campaign. With Thompson staying on to serve as defensive coordinator for new coach Bryan Harsin -- who was on the sideline for the win -- this game falls into the category of the latter. The Red Wolves finished the season with eight consecutive victories, giving the school back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time. Of course, it was also Arkansas State's first bowl win as an FBS member and first victory over a ranked opponent since 1992. Harsin will be able to use this finish as a launching point, using the momentum from Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn to keep Arkansas State in the Sun Belt title conversation moving forward.
WHAT KENT STATE LOST: The loss is obviously crushing for coach Darrell Hazell, who was the only FBS coach to join his former team for a bowl game in 2012-13 after accepting a position somewhere else. The program's second bowl appearance was highlighted with special helmets to honor the 1972 Tangerine Bowl team, and the Golden Flashes were a few conversions away from picking up the school's first bowl win. The seniors are also the winningest group in school history, so ending the season with a pair of heartbreaking losses -- losing the MAC Championship Game in overtime, then Sunday night's game -- is a sour end to a memorable era in Kent State football.
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