While looking back at the Kent State Golden Flashes offensive performance the past two weeks, one word comes to mind: WOW.
Everybody knew this team had weapons. Everybody knew Dustin Crum was one of the best QB’s in the group of 5. But did anyone expect what we’re seeing from the Flashes offense to start the season?
Through three weeks, Kent has simply been unstoppable in 2020, racking up:
- 52.7 points per game
- 317.0 passing yards per game
- 299.0 rushing yards per game (on 5.8 yards per carry)
- 616.0 total yards per game
- 22 TD’s
Those are video game numbers. The offensive onslaught started last week in the 62-24 victory over Bowling Green, but somehow Kent found a way to top that performance this week with a 69-35 thrashing of rival Akron. Let’s dive in and see exactly how the Flashes were so successful in the Battle for the Wagon Wheel.
The Name of the Game is Efficiency
To put up the types of numbers the Flashes have been posting lately, an offense needs to efficiently move the ball and take advantage of every opportunity. Wasted drives are stat killers, and through three games the Flashes have had remarkably few of them. This week against Akron, Kent put on a clinic on how to run an efficient, high powered offense.
Let’s start with the passing game. Dustin Crum did not throw an incompletion in the entire first half of this game, going into the break with a stat line of 17/17, 330 yards and 3 TD’s (2 passing, 1 rushing). Let’s ignore the fact that most QB’s would be happy to put up that line for an entire game, and focus more on the fact that Crum played as close to a perfect half of football as could possibly be played. He was decisive in the pocket, made great decisions with the ball, and allowed his playmakers to make plays. Isaiah McKoy and breakout star Ja’Shaun Poke benefitted greatly from Crum’s accuracy this week, both tallying 6 catches. McKoy finished the game with 140 yards receiving, Poke posted 82, and both found the end zone. Poke has been one of the breakout stars of the conference through three weeks, with 14 catches for 202 yards and 3 TD’s.
The efficiency of the offense extends to the run game as well. As mentioned above, the Flashes are currently averaging 299 yards per game on the ground, leading the conference by a significant margin, and 5.8 yards per carry. A reason that the run game has been so successful has been the balance, and that balance was on display again this week. Marquez Cooper led the way against Akron with 14 carries for 107 yards and 3 TD’s, though he is far from the only threat to run the ball for the Flashes. Crum had 100 yards on the ground as well, picking up 104 yards and 2 TD’s on 13 carries himself. Not to be outdone, Xavier Williams added 97 yards and a TD on 10 carries of his own.
Add all of those stat lines up, and throw in some contributions from a few other sources, and you get the Golden Flashes absurd output versus the Zips: 51 carries, 390 yards, 6 TD’s.
There are college football teams that couldn’t get that output over three games, let alone one. The key to the Kent State rushing attack is the balance. Cooper, Crum, Williams, and freshman Bryan Bradford all have at least 22 carries and 150 yards rushing through three games. With so many threats coming out of the backfield, and a lethal passing game to boot, opposing defenses can get stretched thin pretty quickly against the Flashes.
What makes Kent’s offensive output even more absurd this week is the fact that they did it while turning the ball over twice in the first half. Akron scored their first touchdown after Isaac Vance muffed a punt, and a Bryan Bradford fumble in the second quarter killed another of Kent State’s drives. If the Flashes can clean up some of these little details and hang onto the football, their offense may truly be unstoppable.
The Defense this year is…Better
There’s no getting around the fact that the 2019 Kent State defense was awful. After giving up 31.8 points and 473.5 yards per game last year, the Flashes needed to improve on this side of the ball if they wanted to be taken seriously as conference title contenders. Entering this week, the Flashes ranked fifth in the MAC in scoring defense and rushing defense, and actually led the conference in pass defense, giving up only 173 yards per game through the air. This is certainly a step forward, however there are more improvements that need to be made.
Against the Zips, there was some good and some bad.
Let’s start with the good: the pass defense kept up its solid play, holding Akron QB Zach Gibson to only 154 yards passing on 9-of-15 in attempts. He didn’t throw any TD’s, and was picked off once by Elvis Hines on the first series of the game. Akron is not a high-powered passing attack, entering the game second-worst in the conference with 172 yards per game, but the Flashes were still able to hold them below their season average. A big part of that was the fact that Kent State was able to get consistent pressure on Gibson all night, finishing the game with five sacks. The linebacking duo Brandon Coleman and Kesean Gamble continued their stellar play, each picking up a sack and consistently making Gibson uncomfortable in the pocket. Kent leads the league in sacks through three weeks with 11, with seven different Flashes contributing. This pass rush is legitimately good, and could provide a formula for success moving forward.
Now, let’s get to the bad: the reason the Zips only had 154 yards through the air is because they didn’t have to throw the ball. The Akron rushing attack was successful all night, racking up 212 rushing yards on 41 carries. Junior RB Teon Dollard was especially effective for the Zips, doing basically whatever he wanted on his way to 202 yards and 4 TD’s. The run defense was especially bad for Kent State last year, ranking 127th in the FBS at 244.7 yards per game. While the unit has improved this year, currently giving up 177.6 yards per game, there are clearly still some holes.
The Flashes aggressive philosophy on defense is a double edged sword. The Flashes are so good at blitzing and getting to the QB, as evidenced by their five sacks against the Zips. However, good play callers can identify this propensity for pressure and find ways to beat it. That’s exactly what the Zips did on Tuesday night, using delayed handoffs and draws to get Dollard free in space. Tackling has also been an issue. As much as the Kent defense has improved, this is an area that must be shored up if the Flashes want to reach their pre-season goals of a conference title.
This is an odd position to be in if you’re a Kent State fan. The Flashes are 3-0 for the first time since 1955, and the pre-season hype around Dustin Crum and the offense has proven to be justified. Through three weeks, the Flashes have been as impressive as any team in the conference, and if the defense continues to improve Kent has a legitimate chance to win the MAC championship.
This 3-0 start has set up a heck of a match up for the Flashes next week, as they travel to Buffalo to take on the unbeaten Bulls. In what is certainly one of the biggest games in the recent history of the program, Sean Lewis and company can send a serious message to the rest of the conference with a victory next Saturday in New York. Whether or not they’re able to pull it off will largely depend on the defenses ability to slow down the Buffalo RB duo of Jarret Patterson and Kevin Marks, which is certainly no small task. Whether or not the Flashes are up to the challenge very well may be the difference between a MAC East championship, or just a very good season.