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Kent State’s “Soul Collectors” defense collects a 40-6 win over Bowling Green

Backs against the wall for bowl eligibility, Kent State delivers a dominant performance on the road.

Kent State v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Kent State could not afford another slip-up. The Golden Flashes are in the midst of one of the most prosperous eras in program history, capturing a bowl victory and a conference championship appearance in their first three-year stretch without a losing record since 1972-74.

But the team entered Wednesday night’s rivalry game at Bowling Green with a 3-6 record. In order to sustain the bowl eligibility streak, Kent State needed to deliver, and the Golden Flashes left zero doubt by annihilating the Falcons on the road, 40-6.

“It’s a great shot of life for everyone in the organization,” Kent State head coach Sean Lewis said. “For the first time, all three phases played really well. We did a really nice job of coming out and playing physical. We knew it was going to be a really physical game and we really thought we imposed our physical dominance. I was really, really pleased with the way the Soul Collectors ran around.”

Kent State refers to its defense as the “Soul Collectors,” and that name could not have been more fitting in Wednesday’s weeknight showcase. The Golden Flashes repeatedly inhibited Bowling Green on fourth down, causing the Falcons to fare 0-for-6 in those critical situations. The Soul Collectors also registered five sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and recorded two interceptions in the decisive win. In a fitting ending, outside linebacker Marvin Pierre snagged a pick and raced 33 yards to the house to provide Kent State its final touchdown.

“We really tried to come into this game with a lot of movements and just taking our 1-on-1s as matchups, and really trying to expose them in the areas that we could,” defensive end Saivon Taylor-Davis said. “Just playing physical and buying in and getting off the ball and making stuff happen — plays came our way.”

Impressive performances were common throughout the defense. Of the Golden Flashes’ five sacks, three were credited to Taylor-Davis, who more than doubled his season total in one game. In addition to his fourth quarter pick-six, Pierre added nine tackles and two tackles for loss to his résumé. With stellar showings throughout Kent State’s defensive front, Bowling Green only managed 1.7 yards per carry on 38 rushing attempts.

“Coach (Colin) Ferrell put it on our back to come into this game and emphasize that we had to be the better defensive line, and we were gonna own the line of scrimmage all game,” Taylor-Davis said. “We did a really good job emphasizing rushing as a unit this week, getting pressure from all angles, knowing where to hit on the cadence, and really putting pressure on them.”

Although it was a slow start offensively for Kent State, the Golden Flashes eventually figured it out in their first 40-point outing against FBS competition this season. Kent State’s first three drives resulted in a missed field goal, turnover on downs, and an off-the-helmet interception — all inside the Bowling Green 25-yard line. But by routinely stopping Bowling Green on fourth down, Kent State converted defense into offense, directly scoring two touchdowns and two field goals after forcing turnovers on downs.

“It feels great to know we have a style of defense that can back us up in the moments like that,” wide receiver Devontez Walker said.

Quarterback Collin Schlee fired three touchdown passes in a 214-yard performance in the win. He also rushed for an addition score thanks to a beautiful fake on a zone read in the second quarter. Schlee was no stranger to duping the Bowling Green defense on creative play designs throughout the night. His first touchdown strike was a 14-yard connection with Bryan Bradford which appeared to be a QB draw, but Schlee commanded enough attention to free up Bradford for six points.

Schlee delivered additional touchdown passes to Walker, who was a game-time decision for Wednesday’s contest. The speedster posted a spectacular outing with 86 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five receptions just eight days after going down with a core injury against Ball State.

“I’m real confident especially with the o-line we have protecting Schlee,” Walker said, referring to a Kent State front which allowed zero sacks to Bowling Green. “Schlee gives me a great ball, putting it on the money every time. So that gives me confidence.”

For Bowling Green, offensive futility doomed the Falcons from winning their fourth straight contest. Despite piercing into Kent State territory on seven occasions, committing three turnovers and turning it over on downs six times contributed to the single-digit scoring output. Quarterback Matt McDonald completed 31-of-40 passes for 246 yards, and his arm helped Bowling Green move the ball consistently, but the Falcons weren’t able to finish their drives. The only tangible evidence on the scoreboard was a 24-yard connection from McDonald to Tyrone Broden in the third quarter, which prevented the Falcons from winding up in a shutout.

“For four quarters, when we took that field, we knew that it was gonna be a four quarter battle,” Lewis said. “We wanted to put together a complete game for the Soul Collectors to come out and be dominant early and to sustain that all the way through.”

Bowling Green currently exhibits the longest bowl drought in the MAC, starving for its first postseason bid since 2015. The Falcons have two remaining opportunities to shatter the streak, but they will be challenged by the conference’s greatest competition. Current MAC East frontrunner Ohio and MAC West champion Toledo loom on the schedule, and Bowling Green must battle both squads on the road.

Turning a 3-6 record into 4-6 in mid-November is not unfamiliar territory for Lewis. His Golden Flashes sparked a late-season turnaround in 2019 by jumping from 3-6 to bowl eligibility at 6-6, and subsequently winning the program’s first-ever bowl game. Kent State must win out against Eastern Michigan and Buffalo in order to secure another bowl selection. But Lewis realizes the 2022 team is not the 2019 team, but the confidence gained from Kent State’s most assertive performance of the year can have a ripple effect.

“This team’s unique and this team’s it’s own team,” Lewis said. “They needed to learn the hard lessons that we faced this year. For us to get this win, the fighting resolve that the team showed, it’s really, really impressive. A lot of these guys that are on this team right now weren’t on that team in 2019, so these guys got to know the urgency of each one of these moments and not take them for granted, and to have that purpose and intent that they showed tonight each and every single day through our preparation.”