Previewing The Enemy: Kent State Golden Flashes
Nick Saban’s alma mater doesn’t always live up to the standard that the coach has set at Alabama.
Kent State has gone bowling twice in program history and, within the last 30 years, they’ve won between zero and two games in 14 different seasons. Former head coach Paul Haynes, who was fired following the 2017 season, won a grand total of 12 games in four seasons.
Luckily for the Kent State faithful, former Syracuse co-offensive coordinator Sean Lewis is the team’s new head coach. Lewis injects some new flavors into the offense, as well as some success on the recruiting trail — the Golden Flashes boasted the fifth-best 2018 recruiting class in the MAC with eight three-star recruits.
Kent State has shown some promise in the early stages of the season. The Golden Flashes travelled to Illinois to open up proceedings. At one point, the Golden Flashes actually led 17-3 at Memorial Stadium.
A few too many turnovers and a breakdown in the defense allowed the Illini to come back and win it 31-24. Still, putting a Power 5 team on the ropes like that is no easy feat — especially for a team with a new coaching staff trying to embrace a new identity.
The sequel was much more straightforward for the Ohio squad. The Golden Flashes dismantled a not-very-good Howard team in week two by a score of 54-14. Howard won its first game as an FBS team last season, defeating UNLV in the largest point-differential upset in college football history.
It’s probably safe to say that Penn State is a stronger opponent than Howard.
In 2017, Kent State’s offense ranked second-to-last in the offense S&P+ rating, which is certainly not great. In 2018, Sean Lewis will be working to change that statistic and has done a solid job already. Lewis brings a passing offense to Kent, Ohio after years of relying on the running game.
The offense is led by Woody Barrett at quarterback. Barrett checks in at 6’2″ and 231 pounds with a whole lot of athleticism that sometimes makes up for inaccuracy in the pocket. Barrett went 28-for-41 and 270 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Illinois. He also threw two interceptions, neither of which helped the Golden Flashes’ cause.
Barrett followed up his performance at Illinois by going 13-for-27 and 156 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a 54-14 win over the Howard Bison. Justin Rankin, a junior running back who led the Golden Flashes in rushing in 2017, will take most of the touches out of the backfield.
Rankin struggled against the Illini, taking 15 handoffs for just 52 yards and no scores. The tailback bounced back against Howard, ripping off 147 yards on 12 carries. Out wide, no single receiver bears the brunt but expect Barrett to let it fly nonetheless.
The offensive line for Kent State has struggled for years. In 2017, seven offensive linemen for the Golden Flashes each made at least four starts, and five of those seven are back for 2018. That being said, despite a lacking ground game against Illinois, Kent State gave up just one sack — the offensive line allowed only two sacks against Howard.
The Kent State defense seems to have taken a step forward thus far in 2018 after giving up over 35 points per game and 400 yards last season — 31 points at Illinois and 14 points against Howard could be a sign of new times in Kent.
First team All-MAC honoree Jim Jones anchors the linebacking crew and has wracked up 15 tackles and a sack in Kent State’s first two games. Senior Matt Bahr also figures to factor into the contest, having totaled 18 tackles in this young season.
Junior Jamal Parker and sophomore Elvis Hines are the Golden Flashes’ most talented defensive backs. Parker tallied an interception against Howard (along with Jo-El Shaw) and broke up 11 passes in 2017, while Hines has the talent to become a standout in the MAC. Corner Darryl Marshall saw a lot of the field against Illinois, making 5 tackles including a sack.
Up front, the Golden Flashes will rely on Theo Majette at tackle and Nick Faulkner at defensive end. Faulkner recorded himself a sack against Howard, and fellow defensive end Theo Eboigbe notched a sack in both games.
New defensive coordinator Tom Kauffman seems to be more interested in containing offenses than going for big plays. The Golden Flashes ranked fourth in adjusted sack rate and thirtieth in stuff rate in 2017, but the fundamental style of the defense has changed.
The Golden Flashes gave up big plays in return for an aggressive play style in 2017, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect McSorley to be scrambling all afternoon.
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