The Kent State football team heads into its last non-conference game of the season against the University of Maryland with an unimpressive 1-2 record.
But what is impressive is how the Flashes have played across those three games.
KSU held No. 6 Texas A&M to a 10-3 score across two quarters in week 1, blew out the Virginia Military Institute, who was ranked 17th in the FCS, 60-10 and were only down by nine points at halftime against No. 5 Iowa.
While both losses got away from the Flashes in the later parts of the game, losing to the Aggies 41-10 and 30-7 to the Hawkeyes, they were a team that could hang with the best teams in the country.
“Our kids fought very, very hard to the very end,” coach Sean Lewis said in reference to the Iowa game. “That’s probably the best Big Ten team in the conference right now, and we went toe-to-toe with them. That gives us confidence going forward.”
Despite the great performances, Lewis isn’t trying to get caught up in the moment.
“Even though everyone in town is patting us on the back and saying ‘Hey, congratulations on playing with the number five team, that’s great, we’re so proud of you.’ Thank you, but it doesn’t matter, we have to get better so we can end this thing the right way.”
Maryland is 3-0 with wins against West Virginia, Howard and Illinois.
The Terrapins blew Howard out in week two with a score of 62-0.
Their wins against the two FBS teams they’ve played were a little tighter. Maryland beat West Virginia 30-24 after scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter, which they entered down 21-20.
The week 3 win over Illinois was even closer, with the Terrapins winning 20-17 on a game winning field goal as time expired.
Maryland’s offense is led by junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention last season.
Tagovailoa leads the Big Ten and is third in the country in completion percentage, with 75.5 percent. He has thrown for 956 yards with an average of 318.7 yards per game, second in the Big Ten.
The Flashes’ secondary is having a great start to the season. They have only allowed three passing touchdowns so far and are fourth in the Mid-American Conference in completion percentage (59.6).
The KSU defense have been ballhawks through the first three weeks, snagging a college football leading eight interceptions. Redshirt junior cornerback Montre Miller and fifth-year cornerback Elvis Hines lead the team with three interceptions each.
Miller’s three interceptions all game against VMI, and last week against Iowa he forced a fumble late in the first quarter as the Hawkeyes were driving into the redzone. He also recorded two tackles-for-loss.
Lewis said one of the key aspects of Miller’s play has been his development.
“[Miller] had a set of talents that we knew with his mindset and work ethic would be able to develop over time,” Lewis said. “This kid’s been working his tail off ever since he got here. He’s really embraced the physical nature that’s required to play this game.”
The KSU defense is also second in the NCAA with 10 forced turnovers.
That ability to turn the ball over may be key in stopping Maryland’s offense, who ranks 15th in yards per game in the FBS with 517. Tagovailoa and his receivers are a big reason for that as they average the 11th most passing yards in the FBS with 343.
Senior Dontay Demus Jr. leads the Terrapins’ receiving core in yards with 338, that’s 112.6 yards per game. He is Tagovailoa’s most targeted receiver with 20 receptions.
Sophomore Rakim Jarrett (259) and junior Jeshaun Jones (123) are the only other two wide receivers with over 100 yards.
Six Maryland receivers have scored a touchdown this season, with four of them recording two.
Redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis is the Terrapins’ primary running back. After rushing for 123 yards in the season opener against West Virginia, Fleet-Davis has had games of 66 and 62 yards. Last week against Illinois, he caught six passes for 44 yards and a touchdown.
The Flashes have allowed 215.7 rushing yards per game, ninth in the MAC. They gave up 303 yards against Texas A&M, who had the running back with the 13th most yards last season (1,036) in junior Isaiah Spiller.
The KSU rushing defense gave up 206 against Iowa, 153 of those yards by junior Tyler Goodson, who was third in the Big Ten in rushing yards last season with 762.
Lewis said he is pleased with how his team has gone up against these rushing teams.
“We’re really flying to the football this year,” he said. “We’re being violent and physical at that moment of truth, which is good to see.”
The Flashes’ running game has been the highlight of the offense this year. They have a MAC best 266.3 yards per game, which is ninth in the FBS.
KSU had the most rushing yards as a program since 1954 in their game against VMI (494) and ran for 226 yards against Texas A&M, who was the second best rushing defense in college football last season.
KSU has three rushers with over 100 yards on the season in sophomore Marquez Cooper (199), graduate student Xavier Williams (165) and quarterback Dustin Crum (108).
But against Iowa, the Flashes only managed 79 yards.
KSU has another challenge this week in Maryland, as they tout a great defensive line who is disruptive in the run game.
“They’re strong inside, and they play multiple fronts,” Lewis said. “They’re able to present some different stresses in different ways.”
Maryland has allowed 99 rushing yards per game this season, but they allowed Illinois to rush for 150 yards last week. Graduate student defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu leads the team in tackles-for-loss with four and a half for -37 yards.
The Terrapins’ defensive line has also been excelling in the pass rush. They are second in the Big Ten in sacks with 11. Okuayinonu leads the team with four.
“They are explosive off the edge,” Lewis said. “They got a handful of kids, that they rotate to keep fresh, that have length and speed. They have an unbelievable ability to get from speed to power that puts your tackles in a tough spot.”
Crum was sacked seven times by the Hawkeyes defense, so keeping him protected will play a key role in their offensive success.
The Flashes were second last year in passing yards per game, with 323.5. So far this season they are the second worst in the MAC, with only 166.3. Crum has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns.
Only one KSU receiver has over 100 yards receiving, fifth-year Keshunn Abram with 167. 138 of those yards came against Iowa last week. Graduate student Nykeim Johnson, who transferred from Syracuse in the offseason, is second with 99 yards.
Maryland’s secondary has only allowed one passing touchdown, and they are fifth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game with 180.7.
Junior defensive back Nick Cross leads Maryland in broken up passes with four. He is also tied for the most interceptions with two.
Lewis mentioned Cross as one of the biggest threats.
“[Cross] is a ballhawk in the backend,” Lewis said. “He had a big interception in their game against West Virginia.”
The Flashes kept pace with two of the best teams in the country, and while Maryland is very talented, they are not a ranked team. If KSU was to pull off an upset, this would be the week. They have never beaten a Big Ten team in 18 tries, but could this be the weekend it finally happens?
KSU will take on the Terrapins on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in College Park, Maryland.
Jimmy Oswald is the sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com.