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2022 MAC Football Week 6 Game Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes @ Miami (OH) RedHawks

One overtime two-point attempt determined the MAC East race last year. What’s in store this season as the series shifts to Oxford?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Miami OH at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, October 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: Yager Stadium — Oxford, OH
  • Spread: Kent State (-5.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Kent State has 52.2% chance to win
  • All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 50-18
  • Last meeting: Kent State 48, Miami (OH) 47 — November 27, 2021
  • Current streak: Kent State, 1 (2021)

Setting the scene

It couldn’t have been any closer. The fate of the MAC East came down to one final play — in overtime. With Kent State ahead 48-47 following the first Miami (OH) touchdown of the extra period, the RedHawks figured they would trust their offense in the old-fashioned shootout. Quarterback Brett Gabbert looked for his favorite target Jack Sorenson on a quick slant, but the pass was quickly met by the glove of Kent State cornerback Montre Miller. The difference between a Kent State MAC Championship Game appearance and a Miami MAC Championship Game appearance was Miller’s deflection on that 2-point attempt.

After the thrilling finish to a high-stakes game last November, Kent State and Miami take the series to Oxford, OH where the RedHawks hold hosting duties. The MAC East race appears to be wide open with both the Golden Flashes and RedHawks involved in crunch-time finishes a week ago. Does a play at Yager Stadium this Saturday determine the fate of the conference again? We won’t find out immediately this time, but who knows if something like a simple pass deflection changes these teams’ season trajectories once again?

Kent State Golden Flashes outlook

Kent State (2-3, 1-0 MAC) garnered national recognition in Week 4 when becoming the first team to score multiple times on Georgia this season. Not only did the Golden Flashes generate double-digit points on the then-No. 1 Bulldogs — they scored on five separate occasions in a 39-22 loss, keeping the game as close as 10 points in the fourth quarter. Kent State fed off the momentum established in Athens, GA when playing the team from Athens, OH in the MAC opener.

The Golden Flashes played from behind most of the contest but scored twice in the final five minutes to ultimately defeat Ohio in overtime. Kent State may have started 1-3 due to a grueling non-conference slate, but head coach Sean Lewis’ team finally experienced a close game down the stretch and emerged victorious. With an early 1-0 head start in conference play, the reigning MAC East champs hope to replicate last week’s result on the road this Saturday in their quest for a return trip to the conference title game.

Kent State’s advantage over its MAC East peers is the sheer amount of talent at the skill positions. The Golden Flashes witnessed career-highs from their starting quarterback, running back, and top receiver last week, and all three posted ludicrous stat-lines. Collin Schlee completed 24-of-37 passes for 398 yards, and a touchdown, averaging almost 17 yards per completion. His preferred target Dante Cephas may have attained First Team All-MAC status in 2021, but even he never had an outing like his 13-catch, 246-yard performance against Ohio. Lastly, Marquez Cooper kept the run game equally as dangerous with 240 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries.

Kent State v Georgia
Collin Schlee shattered his previous career-high of 199 passing yards by collecting 398 in a Week 5 overtime win over Ohio.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Cooper and Cephas posted eyebrow-raising totals in Kent State’s high-tempo offense last season, but Schlee’s breakthrough was the most promising aspect of the game. In his first four starts, the quarterback never attained 200 yards passing. But he flirted with an efficient 400-yard performance without an interception while attaining 77 additional yards due to his mobility. After a tremendous display of passing mechanics in the MAC opener, Schlee appears to have the aerial component of his game to be one of the most lethal quarterbacks in the conference.

The sudden ramp up in offensive production was a welcome sight after initial struggles against the defenses of Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia. But how did Kent State manage just 24 points in regulation with those exhilarating stat-lines? The Golden Flashes fumbled twice — once in the red zone — missed two field goals, and turned it over on downs twice in Ohio territory. But the fact that Kent State withstood so many bad breaks to escape with the win could be a good sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, Kent State did not force a single turnover. So given the lack of breaks in the turnover department, holding Ohio to just 24 points was a good sign for a defense which had struggled in years past. The Golden Flashes put together that performance without their top defender from this season, inside linebacker Khalib Johns. Johns led all MAC players in sacks and tackles for loss per game through Week 4 and Kent State missed his presence in the pass rush. With a nicked up linebacking corps, the Golden Flashes will rely on the Wests — Zayin West and CJ West — to record more pressure and backfield stops from the defensive line.

The rest of the defense will focus on generating more havoc plays. Kent State is situated toward the FBS nadir in takeaways this year with four, and the team’s only interception is a Montre Miller pick against Georgia — the cornerback who deflected Miami’s chance at a MAC championship last November. Golden Flashes’ safeties Nico Bolden and Antwaine Richardson have grown to become skilled tacklers near the line of scrimmage this season, but they’ll hope to make a home run play in coverage to give the defense the extra firepower it has been searching for thus far.

Miami RedHawks outlook

Miami (2-3, 0-1 MAC) didn’t experience overtime in its MAC opener like Kent State, but the RedHawks were painfully close. Buffalo tied Miami 20-20 on a field goal in the final minute last Saturday evening, but the RedHawks jumped offsides on the attempt to breathe new life into the Bulls offense. Ultimately, the RedHawks yielded a 15-yard touchdown strike to Justin Marshall and dropped their MAC opener, 24-20. Now, head coach Chuck Martin’s team looks to overcome the last-minute defeat and lock up a key tiebreaker back in Oxford, OH.

In terms of week-to-week variance, Miami has been one of the most consistent MAC teams. If the RedHawks allow 20 points, they lose. But if they score 20, they win. That simple rule has applied in all five contests this season, including a 17-14 road victory over Northwestern — Miami’s first Big Ten win since 2003. Overall, this team fields a respectable defense but sparking the offense remains a work in progress.

Miami’s offense took a major step backward when quarterback Brett Gabbert was lost to injury in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss. Aveon Smith has started four consecutive games for the RedHawks and although he already guided the team to two wins, Saturday was his most explosive showing yet. Smith is completing exactly 50 percent of his passes, so the aerial attack isn’t working to a T, but the quarterback demonstrated his mobility in electrifying fashion against Buffalo. Smith converted 12 rushing attempts into 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, bolting across the field 73 yards for Miami’s first touchdown of the game.

Now that Smith has opened up that element of his game, Miami’s offense is more lethal, especially on passing downs. Smith hasn’t thrown more than 26 passes or completed more than 14 in a game this season, and the RedHawks are preferring to keep things more grounded with Gabbert out of the lineup. But forcing defenses to play contain or operate with a spy could open up the passing game for the freshman quarterback. He already has established a strong rapport with No. 1 receiver Mac Hippenhammer, whose receiving production this season more than triples the next closest RedHawk.

Cincinnati v Miami Ohio
Mac Hippenhammer leads Miami in receptions (21), receiving yards (309), and receiving touchdowns (4). The next highest RedHawk in each category has 11, 81, and 1, respectively.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Hippenhammer will be the preferred target in Miami’s passing situations, but the RedHawks’ focus involves establishing the run game against Kent State’s 82nd ranked ground defense. After a slow start to the season, Keyon Mozee is looking more confident in the lead back role. He posted 171 yards on Northwestern and helped rally the RedHawks to win that game, and he followed it up with 62 yards last weekend. With support from Tyre Shelton, Kenny Tracy, and Kevin Davis, expect a high run-to-pass ratio for the RedHawks this Saturday — contrary to the team’s 51 pass/31 run split against Kent State last November.

While certain skill position players have performed well in flashes, the defense has been solid in nearly every game this season. In contrast to Kent State, this team forces a slew of takeaways and has collected 10 through five weeks. Additionally, the run defense spearheaded by middle linebacker Ryan McWood ranks ninth in the FBS with 85 yards per game on a 2.8 rushing average allotted to opponents. McWood and Matthew Salopek have done a fantastic job from the linebacking corps to halt running backs in their tracks. Meanwhile, defensive line Caiden Woullard has chipped in three sacks, serving as a pleasant surprise in a front seven which lost their top five sack leaders from 2021.

In the secondary, Miami’s secondary faces a daunting challenge in containing Dante Cephas. To counter Cephas, the RedHawks trot out 6’2” cornerback John Saunders Jr. Saunders has a loaded résumé already, doubling his tackle total from last year, batting down five passes, and being on the receiving end of one interception and one fumble recovery.


Any high-scoring affair favors Kent State. And any game that mirrors this week’s Colts-Broncos Thursday Night Football matchup favors Miami. The RedHawks have yet to eclipse the 20-point threshold in four tries against FBS opponents this season, but they’ll get a crack at when pitted against a defense which allows 30.2 points per game.

While Miami appears set to counter an RPO-heavy Kent State offense with a relentless run defense, the Golden Flashes are simply too explosive and multidimensional on offense. Collin Schlee taught a lesson with his arm talent last Saturday and given the big play potential of his receivers Dante Cephas and Devontez Walker, Kent State should have more than enough to work with if the run game stalls. By carrying over similar offensive production from their MAC opener, the Golden Flashes look bound to notch their first road win of the season and improve to 2-0 in league play.

Prediction: Kent State 34, Miami (OH) 23