Kent State (6-6, 5-3 MAC) and Utah State (7-5, 6-2 MW) arrive at the Frisco Bowl as programs in different states of existence.
After finishing 11-3 in 2012 and appearing in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, the Flashes football program fell on hard times, posting a 16-55 record, including back-to-back 2-10 seasons in 2017 and 2018.
But in 2019, under the direction of second-year head coach Sean Lewis, Kent State took a giant step forward in re-establishing its football program.
Understandably, the return to bowl eligibility wasn’t easy.
The turning point of the season came on November 14 in a game against the Buffalo Bulls. Kent State had a tough non-conference schedule, with three losses against the Wisconsin Badgers, Auburn Tigers, and then-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils.
After leaving non-conference play with a 1-3 record, the Golden Flashes started conference play with two wins but then went on a three-game losing streak, including close losses to perennial MAC East power Ohio Bobcats and the eventual MAC champion Miami RedHawks.
Then came Kent’s game against Buffalo. Kent State’s bowl hopes were on the ropes early in that game, as a 3-6 Kent State squad was losing to Buffalo 24-3 at the end of the third quarter. Showing the mettle that typifies the 2019 squad, Kent State stormed back in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter with a 24-0 run to win the game on a 44-yard field goal by Matthew Trickett as time expired. The Golden Flashes went on to win the last two games to finish as bowl eligible.
With the regular season completed, the signs of a program on the rebound are hard to miss. Kent State already has two more wins this year than the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined.
The Mid-American Conference named six Kent State players to its 2019 All-MAC teams compared with only two in 2018. The six players named to the 2019 All-MAC teams did not include standout QB Dustin Crum, Kent State’s leading passer and rusher, which goes to show the high-level of quarterback play in the MAC.
Another significant accomplishment in 2019 was defeating rival Akron for the Wagon Wheel, snapping a four-game losing streak.
But for all it has accomplished so far in 2019, Kent State could still achieve some important milestones with a win against Utah State: The Golden Flashes would earn its first winning season since 2012 and its first bowl win in program history.
UTAH STATE AGGIES
It’s safe to say that Utah State did not have the season it was hoping for in 2019. In 2018, the Aggies finished with an 11-2 record, scoring more than 50 points in seven games and losing only to ranked Michigan State and Boise State. The Aggies finished ranked in the top 25 of the Coaches and AP polls.
The Aggies were unable to duplicate that success in 2019, finishing the regular season 7-5, third in the Mountain West Conference behind #18 Boise State Broncos and #24 Air Force Falcons (AP poll rankings).
The schedule had something to do with the 2019 record, as Utah State played Boise and Air Force in conference, and #1 ranked LSU in the out-of-conference slate.
One stat that jumps out when comparing the 2018 Aggies with the 2019 squad which may partially explain the record difference is turnover margin. In 2018, the Aggies were +14, ranked 3rd in the country. In 2019, the turnover margin is zero; they have given up turnovers as many as they generated.
Though 2019 did not turn out as well as they hoped, Utah State did finish the season strong, winning three of their last four games and earning its eighth bowl bid in the last nine seasons.
The Golden Flashes are 0-3 all-time, with the last bowl appearance a 13-17 loss in 2012 to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Utah State has appeared in 13 bowl games all-time, with a 5-8 record. Last year, the Aggies decimated North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl 52-13.
A win by Kent State would bring the MAC’s all-time record against Utah State in bowl games to 3-3.
When Kent State has the ball
For the most part, at this point in the season, we know what the teams will do and who will be trying to do it. The Golden Flashes will run a tempo-change offense through QB Dustin Crum, who leads the Flashes with 2,333 yards passing and 560 yards rushing. Crum has been sensational in touchdown-to-interception ratio with 18 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions.
Kent State will take some shots deep to its most explosive playmaker, sophomore WR Isaiah McKoy, who leads the Flashes with 51 receptions for 767 yards and 7 touchdowns. McKoy was 11th in the MAC in yards per reception with 15.0 yards a catch.
Senior receiver Mike Carrigan is always a threat and finished the season in the top 20 in the MAC in receptions with 38.
Kent State’s running game evolved over the season, settling with Crum and RBs Xavier Williams and Will Matthews sharing the carries for the last quarter of the season. Williams and Matthews have combined 888 yards, 4.75 yards per carry, and five touchdowns.
When Utah State has the ball
Utah State’s offense is led by Jordan Love, who passed for 3,085 yards, completing 60.6% of his passes for 17 touchdowns. Love has announced he will forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. As of November 7, 2019, his latest rankings, draft Guru Mel Kiper Jr. has Love ranked as his seventh overall QB prospect in the 2020 draft. It’s not known yet if he will be playing in the game, so that will be a storyline to keep an eye on.
The Aggies will split the load at running back between Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren with Bright typically receiving the majority of the carries. Bright and Warren have combined for 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
I would expect to see Bright and Warren early and often to test Kent State’s running defense, which is ranked 127th in rushing yards allowed per game. Kent State’s run defense numbers clearly took a hit because Wisconsin and Auburn rushed for over 800 yards; however, Kent still showed some issues in the run defense late in the season, allowing 5.33 yards per carry over its last six MAC games.
Utah State has spread it around all year with five players with 30 receptions or more, led by WR Siaosi Mariner with 56 receptions for 874 yards and 8 touchdowns.
If the game is close, Utah State and Kent State each have one of the best kickers in college football. Utah State’s kicker Dominik Eberle is the all-time leader in FGs made in Mountain West Conference history with 62. Kent State’s kicker Matthew Trickett has won multiple games in the closing seconds in his career and was recently named first team All-MAC for the second consecutive season.
- Where/when: Friday, December 20, 2019, at 7:30 EST (6:30 local) at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
- How to watch: The game will be televised on ESPN2, and can be streamed on the ESPN App (with valid cable subscription.)
- Weather: Partly cloudy and 38 degrees at kickoff, with winds around 4 MPH thoroughout. 20 percent chance of precipitation. (Per Weather.com.)
- Odds: Utah State is a seven-point favorite, with an expected over/under of 65, per OddsShark.com. The site’s “supercomputer” predicts the game as q toss-up, with both teams having a 50 percent chance of winning.
Barring turnovers and/or significant injuries, this should be a track meet. Both offenses can score with Kent State averaging 33.1 points per game over its last six games and Utah State averaging 30.1 points per game over its last four games. The winner of this one is probably going to score 35+ points.
Kent State should win against the spread if they can keep the turnovers to even or better.