Kent State is no stranger to difficult non-conference slates. The Golden Flashes endured the grind of Texas A&M, Iowa, and Maryland in 2021 and followed it up with a murderers’ row of Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia in 2022. And sprinkled in between the arduous road trips is always one home game against an FCS opponent, which Kent State typically wins in commanding fashion.
This year, Kent State took three road trips in different sections of the country, battling UCF, Arkansas, and Fresno State. And due to this tradition of this brutal scheduling, the Golden Flashes are off to a 1-3 start for the third consecutive year after falling 53-10 at Fresno State. Kent State will have to wait until the calendar flips to 2024 before collecting its first regular season non-conference victory over an FBS opponent since 2014.
In the late-night contest against Fresno State, the defense was simply overwhelmed. Fresno State picked up 513 yards on the Golden Flashes and became the second team to drop 50 on them this season. Quarterback Mikey Keene fired for 325 passing yards and four touchdowns, and he wasted no time in putting away Kent State. He delivered a 40-yard bomb to his top wide receiver Erik Brooks less than three minutes into the contest. By the 10 minute mark of the opening quarter, the Bulldogs already captured a 15-0 lead when Jaelen Gill threw a 32-yard touchdown to Elijah Gilliam out of the wildcat.
Kent State’s offense eventually responded when seventh-year senior running back Xavier Williams reached the end zone on an 18-yard run in the middle of the first quarter. Williams’ first rushing touchdown since 2021 also signified the Golden Flashes’ first touchdown against an FBS opponent this season. But they never wound up reaching the end zone again, as Andrew Glass’ 46-yard field goal in the early second quarter provided all of the team’s remaining points for the night.
The Golden Flashes ran the ball better on Fresno State than they did against their previous FBS competition, demonstrating tangible improvement within the offensive line. But when the Bulldogs possessed the ball, they were in full control of the trenches. Kent State’s defense was unable to register a sack and it only generated one tackle behind the line of scrimmage all night. This unit was able to amass multiple turnovers in two of its first three games, but the inability to snatch the ball from Fresno State made it a long night for the Golden Flashes, which allowed 50 points for the 12th time since 2017.
The game started and ended in parallel fashion for Kent State. Each of the first two possessions wound up as three-and-outs, as did each of the final three. Kent State picked up just 102 yards on 15 attempts through the air, and overall, ran a limited number of plays due to faring 3-of-13 on third downs. The most impressive part of the offense was certainly the line, which held up firm and prevented yielding a sack for the second-straight week.
Fresno State (4-0, 0-0 Mountain West) landed at No. 25 in the AP Poll on Sunday after a successful non-conference slate which involved knocking off Purdue in a thriller, shutting out Arizona State, and flying past Kent State. The Bulldogs move forward with Mountain West play next Saturday, opening against one of the five winless FBS teams in Nevada.
Kent State (1-3, 0-0 MAC) prepares to take the lessons it learned from a grueling non-conference slate and apply it to MAC play. Although there are very few remnants from the 2021 squad remaining, the Golden Flashes qualified for the MAC title game just two years ago after a 1-3 start. They’ll look to improve to 1-0 next Saturday at Dix Stadium against Miami (OH), hoping to preserve their undefeated home record in the Kenni Burns era.