Kent State finally returned to Detroit for the first time since 2012, but the Golden Flashes were unable to capture their first MAC title in nearly 50 years against a Thomas Hammock’s stunningly-improved Northern Illinois team. Now, it’s time for the MAC East champs to run it back and end the 48-year title drought. However, things won’t be easy as graduation rules applied again this offseason after the 2020 COVID season extended all players’ eligibility. Kent State lost plenty of key cogs from the prior year, including three starters from the offensive line. Two of those three departed starters — Bill Kuduk and Nathan Monnin — held the designation as the Golden Flashes’ only linemen to attain All-MAC honors.
With 60 percent of the front five gone, Sean Lewis and his staff are working with a rather fresh slate. One of the returning faces is Jack Bailey, a versatile interior lineman who possesses guard and center capabilities. The redshirt junior was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in the 2021 opener against Texas A&M, and he held the role for the remainder of the year. Additionally, Sam Allan remains on campus as one of the few lasting components of the Paul Haynes era. The 2022 campaign will mark his sixth season on the roster and his second as a primary starter after making the leap last fall. Outside of Bailey and Allan, the only Golden Flash with an FBS start is Elijah Ratliff, who slid into the lineup for the win over Ohio last October.
As the program veterans, Bailey and Allan look to sustain Kent State’s success in the run blocking industry in the midst of heavy turnover. Last season, the Golden Flashes formed a metaphorical moving company when it came to paving the way for the team’s three-headed backfield of Marquez Cooper, Bryan Bradford, and Xavier Williams. Kent State finished third in the FBS (first among non-triple option teams) in rushing yards per contest, sitting among the pantheon of the elite with an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Operating in an RPO-heavy scheme, potent run blocking is the necessary basis to manufacture a functioning offense.
The pass protection never reached the same level of success, however. Kent State inched closer to the cellar in that category, ranking 104th in the FBS by allowing over 1.6 sacks per game. One aspect which will assist the offensive line through pass blocking breakdowns is the presence of a mobile quarterback. Collin Schlee replaces longtime starter Dustin Crum, and the new face of the offense possesses a similar ability to extend plays with his feet.
Kent State addressed the lack of offensive line experience in the trenches via Big Ten country. In the transfer portal, the Golden Flashes landed Michigan transfer Nolan Rumler and Rutgers transfer Kevin Toth. Rumler played two seasons for the Wolverines in reserve and special teams roles, but the former 4-star prospect should expand his horizons as a likely starter in his new home. Toth never saw in-game action at Rutgers but built up a reputation as a strong run blocker in his days at nearby Hudson High School in Ohio. Considering the lack of returning tackles, Toth could similarly mold into a day one starter.
Another tackle brought in from elsewhere who could serve a valuable role in the offensive rotation is Cameron Golden. The fittingly named Golden Flash came off the bench for Georgia State during the 2020 season and participated in creating one of the nation’s top 20 sack-preventing units.
With the lack of experience in Kent State’s offensive line, the Golden Flashes may have to look in the direction of their freshman class — the highest rated of the Sean Lewis era per 247Sports. Their most prized offensive line recruit was Mason Mennell, a 3-star guard rated 77th in the country at his position by ESPN. Pennsylvania native Nick Bryan is another 3-star guard the Flashes acquired in Lewis’ latest recruiting class, and while either recruit could be subject to redshirt status, the opportunity to make instant impact is certainly available.
Half of Kent State’s games last season were separated by at least three scores so some of the reserves earned playing time late in fourth quarters. This experience, while seeming trivial at the time, could leverage some players into increased roles in 2022. The 6’8” Savion Washington stands as the tallest lineman on the team and saw numerous reps against Texas A&M, while junior Marcellus Marshall provided depth in the Flashes’ blowout win over VMI.
Overall, this is one of the least experienced position groups in the MAC. The return of esteemed run blockers Bailey and Allan provides guidance for Kent State’s powerful rushing attack, but there may be growing pains while transfers and/or freshmen assimilate into the lineup. They’ll be tested by some fierce front sevens early in the season, as the non-conference schedule features trips to Oklahoma, Washington, and Georgia. But if this line gels together prior to the start of conference play, Kent State could be on track for another high-powered offense and a top three rushing attack for the third consecutive season.