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Five Things We Learned From Kent State vs North Carolina A&T

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Are there any positives from the wreckage of the 4OT loss for Kent State?

NCAA Football: Kent State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Heading toward another matchup against an FCS opponent and coming off a disheartening loss to North Carolina A&T, what are some things that we learned?

This is going to be another long season in Northeast Ohio.

With a difficult schedule to begin the season that included non-conference matchups against heavyweights Penn State and Alabama and cross-conference opponents Central and Western Michigan, it was always going to be a challenge to reach bowl eligibility. Kent State needed to capitalize and win every game in which they were favored and pull off an upset or two.

With the loss to North Carolina A&T in the books, add that needed upset tally to two or three. Since the MAC portion of the schedule hasn’t even begun, I’m not going to say the season is over. Especially given how weak the MAC East has been to this point, it isn’t inconceivable to picture a 4-1 division record. That being said, the road looks that much more unclear after failing to win a must win game.

Mylik Mitchell has potential.

The redshirt freshman quarterback certainly flashed potential last night, but it is quite clear that he isn’t ready to be relied upon to carry the offense. The Kent State coaches asked the young man to throw the ball far too frequently, 32 times not counting the times he had to run to avoid pressure. At this point in Mitchell’s young career, he simply isn’t ready to do that.

Mitchell did have a few notable highlights, such as the two consecutive long throws to tight end Brice Fackler and a number of elusive runs, but when the offensive line gives limited time for a unseasoned freshman, coaches are asking for trouble.

Not all was bad, however. The third overtime period offered a glimmer of hope as Mitchell made a few key passes as Kent State was down six and in need of a touchdown.

The defense can’t single-handedly win games.

Defense is without question the strength of this Kent State football team and it is very good indeed. They forced four turnovers, two that gave the offense the ball at the ten-yard line or closer. Numerous times the defense stopped the North Carolina A&T offense and gave the offense a short field.

Despite their talent level, the defense couldn’t win the game by themselves. They quite obviously tired out at the end of a marathon game that was delayed for two hours and then went to 4OTs. The defense was on the field for 91 plays, chasing around speedster Tarik Cohen all evening.

Nate Holley and Terence Waugh were once again the highlights for Kent State as they combined to rack up 24 tackles between the two of them. Waugh also contributed two sacks.

Against higher levels of competition, this defense will once again give the offense an opportunity to win most games. The offense just has to avoid needing to punt ten times.

Coaches can’t abandon Justin Rankin

In the early going, the coaching staff predictably attempted to get Rankin plenty of touches. Quite clearly, everyone thought that would be the game plan— including the North Carolina A&T defense. Rankin was bottled up and dropped for a loss several times on the first few possessions.

Inexplicably, Kent State went away from Rankin despite the tight nature of the game. As previously mentioned they opted to instead attack through the air and have Mitchell improvise once he faced intense pressure.

For most of the second half, Rankin didn’t sniff the ball and the running game and offense as a whole suffered for it. In the second overtime, Rankin got the ball four straight times to score a touchdown.

This alone exhibits how valuable continuing to run the ball can be. Rankin is physical enough to wear down defenses and capitalize on open running lanes.

The defensive backs are really handsy.

It is admirable how committed the Kent State defensive backs were to pressing and having a physical edge at the line of scrimmage. The strategy is very useful most of the time, including the game last week against Penn State.

In this particular game, the officials were not appreciative of the Flashes’ physicality on defense. Kent State was penalized in incredibly inopportune times deep in the red zone that kept North Carolina A&T drives alive. In the overtime periods alone, Kent State was flagged for three pass interference penalties.

The defensive personnel needs to make adjustments to how the game is being called. Was the pass interference on the final North Carolina A&T drive probably an incorrect call? Probably, but it should have surprised on one as the game had been called tight all night.

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Kent State next faces Monmouth at Dix Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17.