The Kent State football team heads into the Mid-American Conference play with a 1-3 record.
That record can be deceiving, however, as the Flashes three losses have come against Texas A&M and Iowa, which were ranked as the sixth and fifth best teams in the country coming into those games, and Maryland, which is one of five teams undefeated in the Big Ten.
The Flashes also hung with each of these teams into the third quarter. While the game eventually got away from them in the second half, coach Sean Lewis said he has been happy with how his team has played.
“We pride ourselves on being a tough football team,” he said. “We’re mentally and physically tough. Regardless of the competition and environment, when we handle our business and do things to the level we’re capable of doing, we can compete and stand toe-to-toe.”
KSU’s lone win came against the Virginia Military Institute, which is an FCS football team, in a 60-10 blowout.
“All our goals are still ahead of us,” Lewis said. “Being 4-0 or 1-3 has nothing to do with retaining our Wagon Wheel, it has nothing to do with winning the East, and it has nothing to do with winning a MAC championship. Right now as we sit here we are 0-0. We’re really eager to get into conference play.”
Up first on the Flashes’ journey to the MAC championship is Bowling Green State University.
Lewis has never lost to BGSU since he became the Flashes head coach in 2018. KSU has outscored them 124-44 in the last two matchups.
The Falcons sit at 2-2, but are coming off a huge win over the University of Minnesota, a game BGSU entered as 30-point underdogs.
“That kind of perks your spidey-senses,” Lewis said. “That’s a big time win, and it’s a testament to their program. It’s not easy to go on the road and win those games, and they found a way to do that.”
BGSU started the season in similar fashion to the Flashes, losing to the University of Tennessee 38-6. Just like KSU, the score seems lopsided, but the Falcons hung with the Volunteers through two quarters with a halftime score of 14-6.
One week later, the Falcons lost a close game to the University of South Alabama 22-19 after the Jaguars came back in the fourth quarter and kicked a game-winning field goal. South Alabama is in the Sun Belt Conference, and they have not had a winning season since 2011, when they were still an FCS football program.
BGSU then beat Murray State University, who is an FCS team, 27-10.
The Falcons then pulled off one of the season’s biggest upsets so far, beating the Gophers 14-10. Their defense limited Minnesota to just one touchdown and only 59 passing yards.
BGSU’s defense has only allowed an average of 20 points per game, second in the MAC. If you eliminate Tennessee's big win, that average is cut down to 14.
The Falcons have seen great improvements in their defense, having the second-worst defense in the country last season by allowing 45 points per game.
A big component of that defense is the Falcons’ secondary. They are second in the MAC in passing yards per game (148.3) and first in completion percentage (53.2).
Senior cornerbacks Davon Ferguson and Devin Taylor each have four pass breakups. They are tied for second with three other players for the most in the MAC.
“[Ferguson] is a very active and disruptive player,” Lewis said. “He is a hybrid DB that is a swiss army knife that you need against gun spread tempo teams like ourselves.”
BGSU, much like the Flashes, have been ballhawks this season. They sit in second place behind KSU in interceptions this season, with five. Each interception has been by a different player.
“They’ve generated points because of turnovers,” Lewis said. “They are setting up their offense in a short field or they get a pick six. We need to win the turnover battle."
The Flashes will need to see quarterback Dustin Crum, who has only thrown two interceptions this season and is fifth in the MAC with 190.5 passing yards per game, play a lot like he did in the loss to Maryland.
Against the Terrapins, Crum threw for a season-high 308 yards.
“What stood out to me was his relicency to stand in the pocket against a very good pass rush,” Lewis said. “He’s grit to stand in there. He’s eating licks and jabs as soon as the ball leaves his hand. But he’s doing a great job trusting the rhythm, timing and location of his throws.”
Redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas leads the Flashes in yards this season with 234. He had a career-high 151 receiving yards on 10 catches against Maryland. Fifth-year Keshunn Abram is second on the team with 219 yards and is coming off two great back-to-back performances, setting a career-high with 138 receiving yards against Iowa and one long 52-yard catch against Maryland. Abram also had a 47-yard touchdown catch called back because of holding.
Lewis praised his receivers work ethic.
“Those kids are working really, really hard behind the scenes,” he said. “They’re gaining the trust of the quarterback, and being in the right spots. It’s no surprise those results are now coming.”
BGSU’s run defense is fifth in the MAC (172.8 yards allowed per game). Last season they were one of the worst in football, allowing an average of 310 rushing yards per game.
Ferguson leads the team in tackles-for-loss with 5.5, which ties him for second in the MAC.
“Their defensive front is very active and very violent,” Lewis said. “They’re some of the most aggressive backers that we’ve seen so far in terms of breaking up your double teams and inducing those one-on-one blocks in the run game.”
The Flashes running attack leads the MAC in yards per game with 237.3. After being shut down by Iowa’s defense, KSU rebounded and ran for 150 yards against the Terrapins.
Sophomore Marquez Cooper is the team’s primary running back, rushing for 247 yards this season.
The Flashes have three other runners who have rushed for over 100 yards so far this season: graduate student Xavier Williams (197), junior Joachim Bangda (135) and Crum (118). Crum would have a larger number, but he has lost 103 yards in sacks this season.
Lewis said he is happy with both facets of his offense this season.
“It’s good to be playing complementary football,” he said. “But we saw some things we need to refine, and [we need to] have our sense of urgency and attention to detail go up in the red zone, so we can be cleaner with our execution there.”
The Flashes had seven red zone trips against Maryland, but could only score one touchdown once there.
BGSU is led by senior quarterback Matt McDonald. He has thrown for an average of 221.5 yards per game, second in the MAC. His 66.9 percent completion rate leads the MAC. McDonald has made huge improvements over last season, where he completed a MAC worst 43.9 percent of his passes.
BGSU has four receivers with over 100 yards this season, and junior Austin Osborne leads the team with 181 yards.
In a close second is junior tight end Christian Sims (177) followed by sophomore Tyrone Broden (172) and redshirt freshman running back Taron Keith (110).
KSU is the third-worst in the MAC in passing yards allowed with 258.5 per game.
They allowed 384 yards last week against Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.
The Flashes not only lead the MAC in interceptions with nine this season, but they lead the FBS. They are also second in the NCAA in forced turnovers with 12.
Redshirt junior cornerback Montre Miller and fifth-year cornerback Elvis Hines lead the team with three each, and they are tied for third in the NCAA.
“What we’re emphasizing in terms of ‘The ball is ours’ is we truly mean that,” Lewis said. “It’s not coach speak. The kids are working it and we’re drilling it. We’re a firm believer in you’re going to get what you emphasize. They see the opportunities and they seize those moments.”
Bowling Green has the worst run game in the FBS, only rushing for an average of 45.2 yards per game. In their loss against South Alabama they only had nine total yards of rushing. They ran for 118 yards against Murray State, but had only had 32 against Tennessee and 22 against Minnesota.
Freshman running back Nick Mosley leads the team with 74 yards. Mosley had two games where he rushed for zero yards.
KSU is ninth in the MAC in rushing yards allowed per game (197.3), but they should have little issue stopping BGSU’s almost non-existent run game.
The Flashes take on Bowling Green on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Dix Stadium.
Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.