Kent State’s defense allowed fewer passing yards per game in 2020 than all but two teams — West Virginia and Army. The Golden Flashes also ranked third in opponent completion percentage, permitting quarterbacks to complete a hair under 52 percent of their attempts.
Yes, Kent State only participated in four contests in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and yes, two of those games were against rebuilding Bowling Green and Akron teams which combined to finish 1-11. But Kent State’s secondary showed necessary signs of improvement after treading below the national average in those categories in 2019.
The Golden Flashes reloaded their secondary with newcomers from the transfer portal and also by regaining one of their starting cornerbacks who missed the 2020 season. After finishing atop the MAC East in the preseason media poll, there is plenty of promise that this Kent State unit can be the one to bring the program its first conference championship in 49 years. With an abundance of returning, experienced quarterbacks in the MAC, fortifying the secondary will be a key factor in accomplishing that goal.
It seems like Elvis Hines has been donning the blue and gold for a decade now. The longtime cornerback is entering his fifth year with the program and fourth year as a starter. While he remains in search of an elusive All-MAC selection, Hines’ numbers have been solid for the Flashes over the years — 129 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 17 pass breakups, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries (including one in the 2019 Frisco Bowl).
The other cornerback spot is set to open up for K.J. Sherald, who sat out the 2020 season. Sherald operated as a full-time starter in 2018 and 2019, piling on 176 tackles over the course of those two seasons. Over that span, he collected 10.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, 11 pass breakups, and three fumble recoveries. In the second last time we saw Sherald play, he was spectacular. With bowl eligibility on the line in a one-score game at Eastern Michigan, Sherald secured the game-sealing interception in the red zone — his second of that afternoon.
The safety position is particularly deep in this Kent State squad and it only improved through the arrival of transfers. Obtaining Antwaine Richardson from the portal was a massive plus for the Golden Flashes. Richardson is an established veteran in the secondary, playing his first collegiate snaps at Maryland as early as 2016. He started 15 games as a Terrapin and recorded 89 tackles along the way. The former 3-star recruit registered his first career sack at Penn State last season and managed a season-high nine tackles the following week at Indiana. His veteran presence and external knowledge should help improve the safety room this year.
Kent State also hauled in another FBS safety through the portal in Nico Bolden. The New Mexico product somehow squeezed three forced fumbles into four games of action last year, causing Air Force to cough up the ball multiple times in a November showdown. Although the Lobos lost that game, Bolden was the team’s MVP of the night with 12 tackles on top of his turnover-producing action. At 6’3” and 215, he is one of the larger safeties in the conference, but he also possesses incredible speed from his high school track days.
The returning faces to the safety room include Dean Clark and Richie Carpenter Jr. Clark ranked first on the team last year with 28 tackles. He’ll be a junior this season after causing plenty of havoc as a sophomore with an interception and a blocked punt in just a 4-game schedule. Carpenter, a former Division II prospect and current graduate student, saw an amplification of his playing time after rarely seeing action in 2019. The safety capitalized on his opportunities with 18 tackles (tied for third on the team) and a pair of stops in the backfield.
Kent State also retains C.J. Holmes, who joined Kent State in 2020 after previous stops at Notre Dame and Penn State. He plays a vital role in the special teams game but also earned considerable playing time on defense in wins over Bowling Green and Akron. Holmes may be a potential option to substitute into the game for dime packages. With corner and safety abilities, he provides depth and flexibility for the secondary. Other cornerbacks set to earn snaps off the bench this year in such packages include redshirt juniors Montre Miller and Capone Blue.
There’s no tune up game for the secondary to start 2021, however. The Golden Flashes travel to College Station for an opening week showcase against the reigning No. 4 team in the country. Texas A&M will challenge Kent State with a diverse set of receivers including Ainias Smith, Chase Lane, Caleb Chapman, and All-SEC tight end Jalen Wydermyer. If the Flashes’ defensive backs succeed in this environment, they’ll be perfectly set up for a prosperous 2021.