Arizona State handled Kent State in Thursday night’s season opener at Sun Devil Stadium, only allowing one Golden Flashes touchdown after the dust already settled. Kent State, coming off a disappointing 2-10 campaign, did not get off to the start it hoped to in the second year of the Sean Lewis era.
Here’s what we learned from the Thursday night blowout in Tempe:
Kent State’s passing offense appeared to regress
Sean Lewis’ “Flash Fast” offense looked destined to revitalize a program which suffered so many years of a dormant offense in the Paul Haynes era. Kent State’s offense competed with two Power 5 programs in last year’s non-conference play, hanging with Illinois and Ole Miss through three quarters.
But Thursday night looked like a throwback to the Paul Haynes era. The passing was subpar and the lack of production through the air kept Kent State’s offense one-dimensional all night. Quarterback Woody Barrett finished 9-of-16 with 83 passing yards — the second fewest completions and yards achieved in his Kent State career. In the fourth quarter, after Arizona State led 27-0, Barrett had a perfect 6-for-6 drive. But factoring out that possession, he completed 3-of-10 passes for 19 yards.
Barrett was benched at the beginning of the second quarter in favor of junior Dustin Crum. Crum. Crum was frequently used as a rushing threat two seasons ago, but Kent State inserted him into the game to replace last year’s full-time starter. The junior completed 3-of-8 passes for -3 yards and rushed for 24. Both Barrett and Crum fumbled once each after a sack. Overall, the quarterback play was very concerning. Kent State will likely stick with the Auburn transfer Barrett, who showed flashes of potential throughout last year, and hopefully, his worst performance of the season is already behind him.
Kent State’s defense was promising
Now for the positive takeaway from a 23-point defeat — the defense actually looked very good. Don’t be deceived by the 30 points allowed.
After ranking in the 100s in many major defensive categories in 2018, Kent State opened 2019 looking stellar at stopping the Sun Devils. The Golden Flashes only yielded 10 points in the first half and seven of those Arizona State points resulted from favorable field position after a Kent State fumble.
The Kent State defense sacked the Sun Devils five times, recorded seven tackles for loss, and forced a fumble. They wreaked havoc in the backfield for much of the first half and held one of the top five running backs in the nation, Eno Benjamin, to just 4.6 yards per carry. Outside of a 77-yard bubble screen-turned-touchdown by wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the fourth quarter, Kent State limited big gains for the most part. The Sun Devils didn’t record a rush longer than 17 yards in 46 attempts.
Over time, and after many short offensive drives, the defense got more gassed, allowing Arizona State 20 second half points. But to see the unit keep the game competitive through the first half was a solid start to the season.
N’Keal Harry replacement? Brandon Aiyuk has you covered
One of the question marks on the Arizona State side of the ball was where the receiving production would come from after N’Keal Harry declared for the draft and was selected as the New England Patriots’ first round pick.
Brandon Aiyuk made his mark, catching four passes for 140 yards, and sealing the game on his 77-yard catch-and-run. Three of Aiyuk’s four catches were good for more than 20 yards, and he was accountable for 75% of Arizona State’s 20+ yard plays on the night. Kent State’s secondary struggled to keep tabs on him, and Aiyuk made the Flashes pay with his big play potential. Arizona State seems to have a talented freshman quarterback in Jayden Daniels, and Daniels will be in good shape working with a potential star receiver in the making.
Back to fumbles... Kent State has ball security issues
A wise man once said, “Ball security is job security.”
I don’t know the origin of the common football mantra, but I do know Kent State’s fumbling issues really cost them in this game. The Golden Flashes only lost two fumbles, but they left the ball on the ground six times. Both quarterbacks fumbled once, and running back Jo-El Shaw and wide receiver Kavious Price committed two fumbles each. Kent State must amend its ball security problem before it becomes a greater issue.
The Golden Flashes only lost the turnover battle 2-1, but without the fumbles (which Arizona State cashed in for 10 points), Kent State hangs around in this game for much longer, especially the first fumble, which occurred when the Flashes were on their own 34 and trailing 3-0.
Next week’s game against Kennesaw State could be concerning
Kent State proved it was worlds above FCS competition last season by pulverizing Howard by 40 points, just one season after beating the same program by one possession. The Golden Flashes’ Week 2 opponent in Kennesaw State of the FCS, and it’s actually a quality program in the subdivision.
Kennesaw State is ranked No. 10 in the FCS after finishing last season 11-2. The team did lose to 2-10 Georgia State, however, in the only FBS competition it faced. But if Kent State wants to escape the cellar dweller days, the offense — specifically the passing game — will have to step up against Kennesaw State. At home in Dix Stadium, the Golden Flashes can’t afford to miss out on low hanging fruit. But the offense’s performance in Week 1 certainly did not inspire, and much more production is left to be desired.