Time and Date: Tuesday, November 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Doyt-Perry Stadium — Bowling Green, OH
Spread: Kent State (-20.5)
ESPN FPI: Kent State has 82.5% chance to win
All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 60-21-6
Last meeting: Kent State 62, Bowling Green 20 — September 21, 2019
Current streak: Kent State, 2 (2018-19)
Kent State is on the rise, aiming to collect its second win of the season as heavy favorites at Bowling Green. Golden Flashes head coach Sean Lewis took the program to a new level in his second year, and signs of that rebuild were first evident in a 62-20 victory over Bowling Green to open MAC play last September. Now, the Falcons have a second-year coach in Scot Loeffler looking for a similar turnaround. Bowling Green has lost four straight, hoping to end its losing skid while spoiling Kent State’s winning streak in a Tuesday night MAC East showdown.
Kent State Golden Flashes outlook
It’s truly a new era at Kent State.
The Golden Flashes arrived at the table last December when attaining their first bowl win in school history. With five consecutive victories, they’re in the midst of the program’s longest win streak since 2012. Kent State takes its successful streak into Bowling Green, where it can claim its first 2-0 start since 1988.
But Sean Lewis’ team is out to prove they’re more than a one-hit wonder. Kent State was challenged, but not conquered at home one week ago against a gritty Eastern Michigan team. The Flashes watched a double-digit halftime lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but Dustin Crum proved once again to be a crunch time playmaker. Crum fired a go-ahead touchdown pass with 7:31 remaining. The defense then supported the lead with an interception, and Crum captained a 5-minute, 13-second drive to exhaust the clock and seal the victory.
Kent State is the epitome of a well-balanced team. The Flashes are solid on offense, defensively sound, and there is no glaring area of weakness on the roster. They nearly produced identical results in the passing and rushing attack, throwing for 219 and running for 212 against Eastern Michigan. Crum is multi-dimensional himself, proving to be one of the conference’s most accurate quarterbacks while presenting the ability to beat defenders with his legs. He accounted for two passing touchdowns and one rushing score in the opener, and his versatility is not easy to contain.
Speaking of balance, Kent State exhibits that quality in its running game too. No halfback dominates the carries. The Golden Flashes enjoyed a division of duties between a trio of halfbacks last Wednesday. Marquez Cooper produced 74 yards on 15 carries, Pittsburgh-based freshman Bryan Bradford added 72 on 12 attempts, and the speedy Xavier Williams sprinted for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Crum lost several of his notable targets from 2019, but the receiving corps at Kent State still appears to be formidable. Isaiah McKoy will be the recipient of many of Crum’s throws this year, and he shined on opening night with eight receptions, 104 yards, and the first touchdown of the season. When Crum throws on the run, he’ll often find Dante Cephas in the open field for shorter gains. Cephas was reliable at moving the sticks last week, picking up three first downs on six receptions.
To complement a strong balanced offense, Kent State presents a formidable but far from perfect defense. The Golden Flashes won the turnover battle a week ago, and a late interception allowed them to slide past Eastern Michigan. They also were exceptional at charging the quarterback. Led by linebackers Mandela Lawrence-Burke and Kesean Gamble, Kent State was quite effective at blitzing. They sacked Eastern Michigan quarterback Preston Hutchinson five times and the defense totaled 10 tackles in the backfield. The pass defense was respectable as well. Cornerback Elvis Hines returns to serve as the No. 1 corner and he excelled in 1-on-1 coverage last week with three pass breakups.
Where Kent State struggles on defense is covering the flats on quick, 6-8 yard out routes. Eastern Michigan picked apart the Flashes’ defense with a steady dose of that concept and nearly stole the game. But in the end, Kent State played sound defensive football and Crum ensured the Golden Flashes would sustain the win streak into 2020. His team awaits a winnable road game against a struggling MAC East franchise.
Bowling Green Falcons outlook
Ever since Bowling Green’s 2015 MAC title season passed, the Falcons have found residence in the cellar of the conference. After a 38-3 demolition in Toledo, it looks as though Bowling Green is remaining stagnant as a bottom-feeder in year two of the Scot Loeffler era.
Bowling Green shocked its rival a year ago, but the same magic could not be captured again. The team started last week’s game with a botched snap on a punt, and followed it up with an interception and fumble on its next two drives. The Falcons’ offense was limited to a mere field goal and they couldn’t even complete a pass with ease. Boston College transfer quarterback Matt McDonald connected on just 8 of 30 attempts, throwing two interceptions in a tumultuous offensive performance.
McDonald excelled as a scrambler, however, tying for the team-lead in rushing yards. He attained 41 yards on three carries, avoiding a sack against a Toledo defense which applied consistent pressure all night long. His ability to escape duress could prove vital for the Falcons moving forward. McDonald just has to translate those escapes into completed passes and Bowling Green’s offense will operate with much more ease.
Bowling Green still features running back Andrew Clair in the backfield. Clair diced up opposing MAC teams as a freshman in 2017, bolting for 725 yards on nearly seven yards per carry, but he has yet to replicate those numbers since. The longtime starting running back is fresh off a redshirt season, and the seniors on Kent State are fully cognizant of his capabilities. In his last meeting against the Flashes in 2017, Clair dominated with 111 yards on eight rushes in a 44-16 Bowling Green victory.
Besides Clair, one other name to watch on Bowling Green’s offense is tight end Quintin Morris. He is the best receiving tight end in the MAC, hauling in 55 receptions for 649 yards a season ago. Toledo did a great job game-planning to shut down Morris, holding him to two receptions. But if Kent State backs off in deeper zone as it did last week, Morris could enter a rhythm with a copious amount of short-yardage receptions.
Bowling Green has fielded one of the nation’s worst defenses every year since Dino Babers left for Syracuse. The Falcons were in the bottom 11 in points allowed per game every year from 2016 through 2019, and they might be on that road again. Bowling Green allowed three first quarter touchdown passes while Toledo dropped 38 on the defense. It could have easily been worse. The Rockets fumbled and were stopped on downs in Bowling Green territory in the second half, so the Falcons deserve credit for capitalizing on those plays.
Also, there was an interesting sequence in the late second half where the Falcons forced four consecutive punts, including three-straight three-and-outs. Bowling Green’s secret to managing stops was stuffing the central rushing lanes and meeting Bryant Koback at the line of scrimmage. Even though Toledo posted 310 rushing yards as whole on the Falcons, Bowling Green clearly keyed on Koback and studied his tendencies. Limiting an All-MAC halfback to 3.5 yards per carry with a longest run of 14 yards starts in the film room, and executing from the film room is one way Bowling Green can stifle this Kent State offense.
Toledo quarterback Eli Peters won MAC West Offensive Player of the Week for an efficient 4-touchdown performance on the Bowling Green defense. It doesn’t get any easier for the Falcons since Kent State has Dustin Crum lining up at quarterback. For a quick refresh of what Crum did to Bowling Green last September, here it is: 26/31 (83.9%) completions, 310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 65 rushing yards.
Kent State obliterated Bowling Green in a 62-20 result. A school-record 750 yards of offense were notched that afternoon on 8.9 yards per play. This year’s result may not be a 42-point margin, but Crum and the Golden Flashes will have their way against Bowling Green’s defense all night long.
Prediction: Kent State 48, Bowling Green 16