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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 7 Game Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes at Western Michigan Broncos

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Two title contenders meet for a heavyweight battle this Saturday in Kalamazoo. Who will come out on top?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Kent State at Maryland Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

GAME NOTES

  • Time and Date: Saturday, October 16, 2021, with kickoff at 3:30 p.m.
  • Network: ESPNU (A valid cable subscription is required.)
  • Location: Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
  • Spread/Total: Western Michigan -6.5, O/U 64.5
  • All-time series: Western Michigan leads, 35-20-1

There have been quite a few intriguing matchups in the MAC this year. However, few will measure up to the hype of Saturday’s showdown in Kalamazoo, as East division leader Kent State (3-3, 2-0 MAC) travels to Waldo Stadium to take on Western Michigan (4-2, 1-1 MAC).

Kent State is coming off of a 48-38 victory against Buffalo, in a game that saw the Golden Flashes eclipse 600 yards of offense. This is the type of performance most expected from Kent State this year, and the Flashes offense finally seemed to hit their stride against the Bulls after a slow start to the season.

On the other sideline, the Broncos are coming off an incredibly disappointing 45-20 home loss to Ball State. The Broncos looked like the best team in the MAC for much of the first month of the season, and they still may well be. But it’s hard to overlook the poor performance against the Cardinals, which saw the Broncos normally efficient offense turn the ball over four times.

These are two teams that still have a very good shot to get to Ford Field at the end of the year, and this game very well may be a conference title game preview. Both teams still have a few small things to clean up, and whichever team can limit mistakes on Saturday will likely be the team that leaves Waldo Stadium with a victory.


When Kent State has the ball

As mentioned above, this Kent State offense finally seemed to find their footing this past week against Buffalo. QB Dustin Crum had far and away his best game of the season, going 22-of-36 for 407 yards and three TD’s. All three of those TD’s went to sophomore WR Dante Cephas, who also finished the game with 13 receptions for 186 yards. Cephas has really come on strong in the last three weeks, with 29 catches for 391 yards and four scores. He currently ranks fourth in the MAC in receiving yards at 484.

The thing about this offense though, is that there is much more to worry about than just Cephas. Senior WR Keshunn Abram leads the team and is second in the conference with an average of 18.7 yards per catch, and Syracuse transfer Nykiem Johnson is one of the fastest players in the conference and a legitimate deep threat.

RB Marquez Cooper (95 carries, 479 yards, four TDs) leads the ground game, but Xavier Williams provides a nice change of pace. Crum is also a legitimate dual threat and is second on the team in rushing with 283 yards and four scores to his name.

This is all going to be a problem for the Western Michigan defense.

I was quick to heap praise on the Broncos defense after great performances against Buffalo and San Jose State. But last week’s disappointment against Ball State showed that there are still some holes in this unit. The big play has long been an issue for the Broncos secondary, something we’ve touched on several times in the past, and the Cardinals passing attack exposed that in a bad way. Ball State set the tone early, with QB Drew Plitt finding WR Jalen McGaughey for a 75-yard score on the first play from scrimmage. Plitt finished the day 15-of-25 for 310 yards and four scores, and the Cardinals dynamic playmakers on the outside were consistently able to get the best of the Broncos secondary.

This will be the most dynamic offense that Western Michigan has played since they took on Pitt in Week 3. Though the Broncos won that game, the Panthers shredded the WMU defense to the tune of 508 total yards and 41 points. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett had himself a career day against this Broncos secondary, going 23-of-31 for 382 yards and six scores.

This Kent State offense is more dynamic and faster paced than Ball State. Not only do they have a deeper stable of dynamic playmakers on the outside, but they also present a legitimate running threat, which the Cardinals did not. While Ball State is averaging only 104.3 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry, the Golden Flashes lead the MAC and are 14th in the country at 239.5 rushing yards per game. One path to success for WMU would be to stop that run game, and they could have a strong chance at it, as they lead the MAC in rushing defense, allowing only 118.7 yards per game.

That said, slowing this unit down and getting pressure on Crum and forcing turnovers will be the path which offers the most rewards for the Broncos defense. WMU is still tied for first in the MAC with 17 sacks through six games, and they will need to get to Crum if they want to have a chance in this one. This Kent State offensive line can be had, as they’ve given up 19 sacks through the first half of the season. Crum has not thrown an interception since Week 1, but if the Broncos can generate a few takeaways, they’ll give themselves a chance.

The read option that Kent State runs is unique and unlike anything the Broncos have seen this year. Pitt and Ball State both have high powered passing attacks, and San Jose State and Michigan both look to establish the run. No team the Broncos have played does both as well as the Flashes. This unit causes problems for any defense they face, and WMU will have a tall task in trying to stop them. You can be sure that Sean Lewis and the Kent State offensive coaching staff are will look to take advantage of the weaknesses in this defense that were exposed by Ball State last week.


When Western Michigan has the ball

The Broncos offense had an uncharacteristic off week last week. After giving the ball up only once through the first five games of the season, Ball State forced four turnovers last week, all of which were generated by the pressure they were able to generate on Kaleb Eleby.

Entering last week, Eleby had thrown only five interceptions in his Western Michigan career. He was picked off twice last week. On the first interception, he was hit as he was throwing, which was a common theme throughout the game. Eleby also lost two fumbles in the game, both of which came on sacks. This Broncos offensive line has been a bit of a disappointment thus far this year, and that continued against Ball State with Eleby being sacked four times. This Kent State defense has only generated 12 sacks through the first half of the season, but you can be sure that LB AJ Musolino and DT CJ West, both of whom have two sacks on the year, will be looking to take advantage of this weakness in the Broncos offense.

If the WMU offensive line can keep Eleby upright, this Kent State secondary can be had. While they have had success at generating turnovers (the Flashes rank second in the FBS with 12 interceptions on the year), they are also giving up 255.7 passing yards per game. That number ranks 11th in the MAC and 101st in the FBS. Skyy Moore, Corey Crooms and Jaylen Hall form one of the most formidable pass catching trios in the MAC, and they will be able to find openings in this Kent State secondary. Much like I don’t see the Broncos being able to do much to slow down Kent State, I also don’t see the Flashes being able to contain the WMU passing attack.

On the ground, the Broncos have been very up and down this year. Western currently sits seventh in the MAC at 160.5 yards per game, but are only averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. La’Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler are both very capable backs, it’s just been a matter of blocking for them. If there was ever a week for this ground game to get going, this is it. The Kent State defense is currently allowing 193.3 yards per game, good for 10th in the MAC and 107th nationally. If Western can get Jefferson and Tyler going, it would be to their benefit. Establishing the run would allow them to keep the Kent State offense on the sidelines, which oftentimes is the only way to stop them.

It all comes down to the offensive line this week. If the Broncos can establish the ground game and keep Eleby upright, they’ll give themselves a chance.


Prediction

To me, this is a game that has points written all over it. I do not see a scenario where either defense has much success in this game, as Eleby and Crum are two of the best (if not the two best) signal callers in the conference. The difference to me is the fact that Kent State has a dynamic run game to pair with their high powered passing attack, which is not necessarily something you can say about the Broncos. I expect a shootout in this one, but I do believe that the balance and talent of the Kent State offense will prevail in the end.

Kent State 49, Western Michigan 37