Kent State (4-4, 3-1 MAC) used vastly improved run defense, turnovers, and tempo offense to beat the ‘Cats for the first time under head coach Sean Lewis.
The Flashes’ offense got off to a fast start, scoring a touchdown on its first drive of the game, a five-play drive capped by a 33-yard catch and run by Dante Cephas. In what was possibly the best demonstration of physicality by a MAC wideout all year, Cephas caught the ball and pancaked a defender before changing direction and racing for the score. Cephas finished the day with nine catches for 103 yards.
Ranked 31st in the FBS in rushing yards per game heading into the contest, Ohio (1-7, 1-3 MAC) started the game intending to run the ball with QB Armani Rogers at the helm, but Kent State’s defense had other ideas.
After surrendering over 300 yards rushing in back-to-back weeks, the Flashes’ defense dominated Ohio in the first quarter, limiting the Bobcats to 19 yards rushing while holding the ‘Cats scoreless on four drives.
For the game, Kent held Ohio to a total of 135 yards rushing, led by very good interior line play from Zayin West and CJ West and a big day from linebacker Mandela Lawrence-Burke, who finished the game with 14 tackles.
At the end of the first quarter, with the offense out of sync and dominated by Kent, Ohio turned to backup QB Kurtis Rourke for a spark.
The Bobcats marched the ball down the field on Rourke’s first drive but Kent’s Keith Sherald Jr. intercepted an ill-advised throw in the endzone to deny Ohio points.
It was one of the few mistakes for Rourke in what was otherwise a very good game, with Rourke finishing the day with 308 yards passing, 49 yards rushing, and two rushing touchdowns.
A series of penalties combined with very stout Ohio defense slowed the Flashes offense for most of the rest of the first half.
Despite Ohio’s offense turning the ball over three times in the first half, the Bobcats defense held Kent State to just 17 points, spearheaded by linebackers Cannon Blauser, Bryce Houston, and Jack McCrory, who finished with 31 tackles on the day.
On the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half, the Flashes went tempo with great effect, scoring touchdowns on both drives.
The Bobcats had no answer for the tempo offense for a good part of the second half. Kent’s tempo offense consisted mainly of a mix of three plays to stretch the defense horizontally, executed at a fast pace: interior runs by the running backs, runs by QB Dustin Crum pulling the ball from the running backs, and quick sideline screens and sideline passes within 5-7 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Crum turned in another masterful performance, with excellent decision making and execution in route to rushing for 93 yards and a score while completing 84% of his passes for 257 yards and another score.
Maybe the most impressive part of Crum’s day was his toughness, where the Bobcats got multiple, hard, legal, shots on the QB that he shook off to continue his tempo offense.
Though Kent’s tempo offense had its impact, Ohio’s offense showed grit and toughness too, responding to the Flashes scores with scores of their own to keep the game within reach until the end when an onside kick was recovered by Kent with 47 seconds remaining in the game to seal the deal 34-27.
The victory puts the Flashes one step closer to its first MAC East title since 2012, while loss ensures the Bobcats’ its first losing record since 2008. For Ohio, its three straight MAC losses by a total of 11 points.
Kent State hosts Northern Illinois (6-2, 4-0) on Nov. 3 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern in a game with huge MAC title implicationsm while Ohio kicks off MACtion against rival Miami on Nov. 2, with time to be determined.