One of the final matchups to kick off in the first full Saturday slate of the year involved two beloved college football Twitter hashtags joining together — #MACtion and #Pac12AfterDark.
The late-night kick in Seattle between Kent State and Washington favored the latter, as the Pac-12 squad claimed victory around 2 am on the east coast. In head coach Kalen DeBoer’s debut, the Huskies played a well-balanced game by piling the points offensively and limiting Kent State’s high-tempo offense to 340 yards in a 45-20 decision.
Saturday marked the collegiate starting debut of quarterback Collin Schlee, who served as the primary understudy to Kent State’s All-MAC star Dustin Crum over the past two seasons. Schlee’s first pass as a full-fledged starter wound up in the hands of Washington free safety Asa Turner. The dual-threat QB later remained turnover-free for the remainder of the half and wound up with 178 passing yards on a 50 percent completion clip. His first 10 completions landed in the hands of one of two receivers — Dante Cephas and Devontez Walker. Cephas produced 105 yards on six catches while Walker churned out 56 yards on four in his best collegiate showing.
The opposite sideline also utilized a new starting quarterback, but unlike Kent State, it wasn’t an incumbent member of the roster. Former Indiana standout Michael Penix Jr. reunited with his old Hoosier offensive coordinator DeBoer this offseason and shined in his Washington debut with 345 passing yards (the third-most of his career) and four touchdowns.
With Penix leading the way, Washington’s offense displayed itself as the more refined unit Saturday night. The Huskies scored on each of its first six possessions, remaining free of giveaways throughout the night, and they also refrained from punting until the final three minutes of the third quarter. Washington’s first of its many touchdowns stemmed from a 4th and 1 conversion, when the offensive line parted a massive pathway for running back Wayne Taulapapa. The Virginia transfer ran free in the open field, finishing with a 28-yard touchdown to hand the Huskies an immediate 7-0 advantage.
The Huskies scored from considerable distance on their second drive as well when Penix connected with wide receiver Taj Davis for a 32-yard touchdown strike. But Kent State responded within seconds on an RPO where Schlee found Walker on a 47-yard streak for paydirt. Unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, that momentum was short-lived as Washington piled on its third and fourth touchdowns by the eight-minute mark of the second quarter to secure a three-score advantage.
Kent State attempted a semblance of a comeback in the early fourth quarter when Schlee drove the Golden Flashes down to the goal line with his lone to completion to tight end Kris Leach. Head coach Sean Lewis then dialed up a 1-yard wildcat run for a Marquez Cooper touchdown — signifying the team’s first rushing score of the season. But in a recurring theme Saturday, Washington’s offense answered every blow from Kent State. The Huskies were back in the end zone within one minute and 22 seconds of action, essentially sealing the win with a 45-20 advantage in the early fourth.
The Golden Flashes’ high-powered rushing attack ranked second nationally in 2020 and third in 2021. Kent State will certainly have to accelerate that pace if it hopes for similar lofty goals in 2022, as the team combined for 147 yards at 3.8 per carry in the opener. Schlee led all ball carriers with 47 yards, while Cooper spearheaded the running back production with 36 on 11 carries.
After the loss, Kent State still remains in search of its first win in a non-conference opener since 2013. The Golden Flashes, looking to rebound after the 25-point loss, don’t get any favors from the schedule in the near future. A road trip to No. 9 Oklahoma looms next week, and later in September, Kent State must visit No. 3 Georgia in Athens.