Kent State (1-3) and Ohio (2-2) duke it out this week for the early lead in the MAC East standings.
Defending MAC East champions KSU comes into this one riding a ten-game home winning streak, the most in program history. Helping the Flashes to make it an eleventh game in a row is what is sure to be a raucous Homecoming crowd.
The Bobcats battled back from a fourth quarter deficit to get the win last week against the Fordham Rams to bring their record to even in non-conference. It hasn't always been smooth sailing throughout the non-conference, but the ‘Cats have shown they are a no-quit crew who has what it takes to close out close wins. Due to the parity of the league, having the ability to grab victories in the close ones may serve Ohio well in 2022.
We take a look at both teams heading into this game, but first, some notes.
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 1, 2022, at 3:30 PM ET
- Networks: ESPN + (subscription required)
- Radio/Streaming: Both teams can be heard via the Varsity Network App.
- Location: Dix Stadium, Kent, Ohio
- Weather: Cloudy, 61 degrees. 24% chance of rain. Wind, NE 12 MPH per Weather.com
- Spread/Total: Kent State is an 11.5 point favorite per OddsShark.com
- Last Meeting: October 23, 2021, Kent State 34. Ohio 27
Meet the Golden Flashes
Running the ball and stopping the run: a formula for success as old as football itself.
KSU comes into this one looking like they could excel at both this season and should give the Bobcats a major challenge in both areas.
Defensively, the Flashes rank fifth in the MAC in rushing yards per carry allowed at 4.3, but that number is likely bloated by the game versus #1 ranked Georgia, who had a single long run (75 yards) that led to a 6.0 YPC average.
For the other three games of the non-conference slate, including games against the currently 15th-ranked Washington Huskies and 18th Oklahoma Sooners, the Flashes allowed only 2.9, 3.7, and 3.9 YPC.
Adjusting the competition to MAC level, KSU may be pretty stout against the run based on a lot of non-conference success.
Offensively, the Golden Flashes have committed to the run game so far, leading the MAC in rushing attempts with 169. The effort has paid off as KSU is first in the MAC in rushing yards per game with 189 and second in yards per carry at 4.5.
The main guy in the rushing game for KSU is second-team all-MAC back Marquez Cooper, a seasoned veteran with nearly 1,800 career yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
Cooper has been a workhorse for the Golden Flashes’ offense the past few years, as his 241 carries in 2021 was second in the MAC and he is on pace to duplicate that workload with 72 carries this season.
The second dimension in the running game is dual-threat QB Collin Schlee, who has 179 yards rushing in 2022. Schlee will take to the run in multiple ways, from pulling it from Cooper’s belly to called draws or scrambles. Schlee is adept at making defenses pay by pulling the ball down on passing plays and running to daylight.
Coupled with the running game, the passing game has several concepts that help KSU’s force opponents play the whole field at a FlashFAST pace.
When Schlee and Cooper are not running, one of Kent State’s bread-and-butter attacks is for Schlee to pull the ball for an array of RPOs. The Flashes also have a number of quick WR passes and screens in their bag of tricks to stretch things horizontally.
KSU also has the talent to take some shots vertically with a couple of the MAC’s best WRs in Donte Cephas and Devontez Walker. Cephas was tenth in the MAC last year with 15.1 YPC and Walker is fifth thus far in 2022 at 16.4 YPC, so they know how to make explosive plays with regularity.
The Flashes will likely try to take some shots deep early to loosen things up for the rest of the offense and test a Bobcat secondary that allowed at least six passes over 25 yards last week including scoring strikes of 84, 74, and 45 yards.
Meet the Bobcats
For the Bobcats this week, it starts with limiting those explosive plays on defense while making some noise of their own in the passing game.
The defensive passing yard numbers for Kent State are near the bottom part of the FBS, but are likely inflated so far owing to the competition. Nevertheless, outside of the Georgia game where the Bulldogs had some success running the ball, opponents have generally had more success against the KSU’s pass defense than its run defense.
The passing game then may offer the best chance of success for the ‘Cats against KSU, especially as Ohio’s air attack has dominated at times in 2022.
The ‘Cats are led by their emerging talent at QB Kurtis Rourke, who has had some big games early this season. Rourke has already been named MAC East Offensive Player of the Week twice in 2022, both times for record-setting performances that saw him set single game program records for most passing yards (the 1st and 9th highest totals).
Rourke has really commanded the offense well in games where opponents were relatively comparable in talent to the Bobcats. Whether its audibling or taking what the defense gives him, Rourke is generally making the decisions that lead to success.
Coming into the contest, Rourke has thrown for 1,195 yards, completing almost 70% of his passes with a 9:2 TD to INT ratio.
Rourke has a lot of help at his disposal in the passing game with a deep wide receiver group with a good blend of talent and an emerging pass-catching threat at tight end. When healthy, the Bobcats can put a number of quality guys on the field that will challenge the talent of the opponent's depth chart at defensive back.
Seems like a new guy just about every week can be the guy.
New Bobcat JUCO transfer WR Jacoby Jones had his first 100-yard game for the ‘Cats last week and a pair of scores. James Bostic was a star in the Week 1 win against FAU with some big plays in the fourth quarter and leads the MAC with 21.4 yards per catch. TE Tyler Foster has come on strong in the past few weeks with three scores after becoming a starter as well, and that’s before talking about a guy like Ohio State transfer Sam Wiglusz, who led the ‘Cats in receptions last week and had two scores in Week 1.
Ohio, for all their success in the passing game, would like to have some offensive balance by running the ball to maximize the effectiveness of the offense and prevent KSU’s pass rush from pinning its ears back and coming after Rourke.
Ultimately, whether Ohio can field a credible rushing attack against a good KSU run defense may be more about injuries than a lack of talent.
Left guard Kurt Danneker played in his first game in over year last week and both starting tackles were injured enough to leave last week’s game and not return. The Bobcats used its sixth running back of the season last week as injuries have mounted. The good news is Ohio should get its starter Sieh Bangura back after he missed last week.
Rourke should also be expected to pick up some of yards on the ground as the dual-threat QB had 45 yards last week on designed running plays and some key scrambles. Like Schlee, Rourke can make you pay if you don’t respect his rushing prowess.
If Ohio can make a credible showing in the running game, that will make their passing attack all that more potent.
Defensively, Ohio has a solid front seven that has the ability to rush the passer and make a manageable go of defending a good KSU rushing attack. How successful the Bobcats ultimately are defensively will depend in part on how effectively they can limit explosive plays in the passing game and the resources they will have to devote to doing that.
Look for 2021 third-team All-MAC safety Tariq Drake to help lead his crew to a more respectable effort in pass defense versus Kent State.
Both teams can win this game if they put their best foot forward. Ohio’s offense has the talent to be one of the better groups in the MAC and we know the pass defense is better than what the ‘Cats showed last week.
Trying to predict the score, Kent State has the advantage as they come into the game at home with less question marks. A major feather in KSU’s cap is that they come in much healthier than Ohio may be at this point, where multiple starters on offense and in the secondary were described a ‘day-to-day’ in the weekly Ohio press conference.
That being said, barring a significant turnover advantage by Ohio or some big special teams plays, KSU should win, 33-27.