Nathan Rourke is still Nathan Rourke
Ohio may have trudged to a sluggish start, but the Bobcats will always present a dangerous matchup. Senior quarterback Nathan Rourke is too electrifying of a playmaker for teams to defend, especially in a conference where a good offense typically reigns supreme over a good defense.
Rourke beat Kent State in a multitude of ways. Through the air, he was pinpointing receivers down the field, collecting 342 passing yards and two deep-ball touchdowns in a 19-of-28 showing. On the ground, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and totaled 79 yards, reaching the end zone twice on the run. Despite a 3-4 record, Ohio reclaimed the top spot in the MAC East and the Bobcats likely remain the East division favorite due to possessing the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the conference.
Sean Lewis has worked wonders on Dustin Crum
Re-watch some game film from August 29, 2019 of the Kent State-Arizona State game. The player under center in the #14 uniform for Kent State who threw for -3 yards on 3-of-8 passing is unrecognizable compared to the player we’ve seen bolster the Flashes’ offense in recent weeks.
Before Sean Lewis arrived on campus, Crum was a run-first quarterback and didn’t see too much success through the air in recurring appearances on offense. Now, Crum is eighth in completion percentage in the FBS at 71.3% (QBs with 100 attempts) and is leading his offense to 38-point explosions on the road. Crum is the perfect fit for Lewis’ “Flash Fast” offense and he completed the second-best performance of his career in the loss. Many of his throws were on target, and he fired four touchdown passes without an interception. On the ground, he led all players with 96 rushing yards. Rourke is an electric player and has established consistency over a 3-year span, but the version of Crum that showed up to Peden Stadium looked like a clone of Rourke, but in blue and yellow.
Kent State’s defense needed a “play”
Defensively, Kent State has shown plenty of promise this season. Whether it be holding Arizona State to 10 points in the opening half or holding Akron to a mere field goal on the road, it’s a considerably improved unit from what was seen a year ago.
Saturday was not a very strong defensive day for the Golden Flashes, with the exception of two drives in the middle of the second half, stopping Ohio cold at midfield to force consecutive punts. While Kent State excelled on those sequences with several pass breakups and solid tackling, the Flashes never created a momentum-shifting play. They finished with zero sacks, zero interceptions, and zero fumble recoveries — despite two Bobcat fumbles (one on a punt return in the early fourth quarter). Kent State ranks 107th in turnovers forced and struggled breaking through an offensive line which allows more than two sacks per game. Amplifying the pass rush and applying increased pressure should be a focus of Kent State going forward, in effort to create the “play” the Golden Flashes needed to win this game.
Isiah Cox is the new Papi White
The MAC hasn’t been a hotbed for wide receivers this year. In fact, the conference’s leading receiver, Central Michigan’s Kalil Pimpleton, is averaging a hair over 65 yards per game. Lots of talent exited the conference this offseason from Diontae Johnson to Cody Thompson to Scott Miller to Papi White. But there are plenty of prospects to keep an eye on — young players who are developing week-by-week.
Speaking of Papi White, Ohio lacked a fast, deep-threat playmaker in its first six games, a player who provides similar duties to what White offered the past several seasons. That position has finally been fulfilled, and the successor to White is wide receiver Isiah Cox. The sophomore led all receivers with 115 yards on just four catches. His speed created a wall of separation in the first quarter to give Ohio its first lead on a 49-yard touchdown, the first blood drawn in Ohio’s 45-point scoring rampage. Cox also caught passes of 19 and 29 yards to propel eventual scoring drives and seems destined to earn a first down every time he touches the ball.
White was frequently used in the running game as well to take advantage of his speed. While Cox has just one 15-yard rushing attempt this year, opening the offense to Cox could create a similar effect to the energy White brought the offense a year ago.
Any given Saturday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday)
I thought about using this space to say the conference belongs to the Ohio Bobcats again. Something along the lines of, “The back-to-back preseason favorites are finally hitting their stride, coming back from a defensive meltdown against Northern Illinois to beat a feisty Kent State team in Athens. Ohio now controls the East!” But if we’ve learned anything about the MAC this season, it’s to refrain from making such bold statements. When Buffalo beat Temple and led Penn State at halftime, it seemed the Bulls had the East on lock. When Toledo took down BYU and Western Michigan, the Rockets appeared to be the conference’s frontrunner by a mile.
Every week changes. Nothing in this conference is predictable this year. Besides, it was a one-possession game which could have easily swung in favor of the Golden Flashes. We’ve seen Bowling Green beat Toledo. We’ve seen Northern Illinois beat Ohio. We’ve seen Ball State surprise three MAC West contenders. We’ve seen all the Michigan MAC teams take down each other. The MAC is the most random conference in college football this year (honorable mention for the ACC minus Clemson), and if there’s anything we learned Saturday, it’s that the most exciting part is ahead of us. While Ohio looks good after the bounce-back win, it has yet to compete in a MAC game decided by more than one possession, proving the great amount of parity that exists in this conference.