Kent State playing a murderer’s row in their non-conference schedule is a tradition at this point. Last year the Golden Flashes played Washington, Oklahoma and defending national champions Georgia. In 2021 it was Texas A&M, Iowa and Maryland. This year isn’t quite as bad, but UCF and Arkansas is a tough one-two punch for Kent State under Kenni Burns.
This week the Flashes have their home opener against FCS opponent Central Connecticut State Blue Devils. The first two weeks have been difficult matchups for Kent State, but this one is as favorable as it will get in 2023.
Kent State’s first win this season will be the first for Burns, the first-year head coach. How do the Golden Flashes turn this opportunity into a win?
- Time and date: Saturday, September 16th at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time
- Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Dix Stadium in Kent, Ohio
- All-time series: This is the first time Kent State and Central Connecticut will play each other.
When Kent State has the ball:
By SP+, a metric that I trust more than any other ranking system, Kent State is ranked dead last in overall and offense. They are the only team in the MAC that has yet to score a touchdown. Eastern Michigan and Ball State are each only at two, so they’re not a crazy outlier, but it’s not good through two games.
Kent State wants to establish the run and running back Gavin Garcia gets 48% of the offensive touches for Kent State. That number leads all MAC skill positions. The problem is that they haven’t been very effective in running the ball. They have rushed for three yards per carry after removing sack yardage. Part of that is trying to run into a Big 12 and an SEC defensive front, something they won’t see this week.
Wide receiver Trell Harris and tight end Justin Holmes lead the Flashes passing attack in receptions, which has struggled. Quarterback Michael Alaimo passes for 6.7 yards per attempt, which is in the middle of the MAC. However, his 48% pass completion rate is the lowest of any MAC quarterback.
Alaimo has taken nine sacks and has no time to throw. Defensive linemen Dan Toatley and Ahmad Craig have combined for three and a half sacks and might pressure Alaimo throughout the afternoon.
The Blue Devil defense shut out their division two opponent American International in their opener and gave up 33 points to Stonehill last week. Central Connecticut lost that game on a 52-yard field goal as time expired after a furious comeback to tie the game. Stonehill was able to move the ball on the ground, which bodes well for what the Flashes want to do.
Kent State should be able to create running room against the Blue Devils defense and control the ball. This game will be a good evaluation of Kent State. Are the early losses a result of the rosters being in very different places or poor execution? If the Flashes play a clean game, this one is theirs.
When Central Connecticut has the ball:
The Kent State defense hasn’t been great, but they are the strength of the team. Arkansas scored one of their four touchdowns by a pick-six and needed drives of eight plays, 12 plays and 15 plays to score. The Flashes would have liked to end those long drives before the endzone, but they didn’t let Arkansas take the top off of the defense.
Defensive backs Nick Giacolone and DJ Miller Jr. each came up with an interception in week one against UCF. There are playmakers on that side of the ball but they are on the field for 64 plays against Arkansas and 81 against Central Florida. They’re on the field a lot.
Central Connecticut has run the ball more than they have passed this season, but that may be skewed by some garbage time in their week one win. They have two players that they lean on to run the ball. Elijah Howard leads the team in carries but has struggled to find space. Malik Thomas has been the productive back for the Blue Devils, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
The quarterback for the Blue Devils is CJ Duell and he’s been solid. He averages more than ten yards per pass attempt and is completing more than 65% of his passes. His favorite targets are Isiah Williams and Davion Johnson, each with more than ten catches and 100 yards on the season. Kent State should match up physically with them, neither are six feet tall. They can still burn the Flashes if they don’t take care of business, but they are not Arkansas who ran a pair of 6’4” receivers on the field.
Kent State needs to be disciplined, but again, this win is there for the taking.
Central Connecticut State is a middle-of-the-road team in the North East Conference, a bad FCS conference. Kent State hasn’t played well, but they should have a better roster than their opponents for the first time this season. The offensive line should be able to give Gavin Garcia space and get him in the endzone a couple of times. It’s closer than Kent State wants it to be, but they get the win.
C. Connecticut 21
Kent State 27