2021 Kent State Football Preview: Schedule, 4 Things

The Sean Lewis era has been a lot of fun for this football program. After the team let go of alumnus Paul Haynes, Lewis was a young up-and-coming offensive coach that knew how to put points on the board. He won a MAC title as a coach under Dino Babers at Bowling Green, and followed him to Syracuse before coming back to the MAC in 2018. Lewis has immediately changed the branding of the team, established a better recruiting footprint, and is a threat to compete for a MAC title in 2021.

Will all of the good work done here be enough to actually get things done though?

The MAC East tends to have a lot of parity. Buffalo had just won two MAC East titles over the last three years and is historically not all that great. Bowling Green made it to Detroit three years in a row and came away with two titles over the 2010s, and now it’s easily one of the worst programs in the country. Kent State was in a 2OT thriller championship game in 2012, but that’s history now. Ohio’s consistently decent with Frank Solich, but they’ve never won a title under him. Lewis is the kind of hire you expect to get a team to Detroit if he’s still there long enough. In year 1 under Lewis, Kent State went 2-10. In 2019, Kent State finished second in the division but beat Utah State in the Frisco Bowl. In 2020, Kent State went 3-1 and finished the shortened year as the nation’s best scoring team (49.8 ppg). Year 4 could be gangbusters, but there are still some things it’ll need to clean up before I feel to confidently in this team’s chances.

Schedule

2020 Kent State football schedule, final results (3-1, 3-1 MAC)

SP+ final rank: 94 (44 offense, 118 defense, 105 special teams)

  • W vs. EMU, 27-23 — EMU’s freshman RB Darius Boone had 50+ rushing yards in the first quarter, but came out early with an injury. The Flashes ran the ball for 212 yards and the defense got a pair of interceptions to limit Eastern’s offense.
  • W @ BGSU, 62-24 — A very rainy day, but QB Dustin Crum still had 4 TD through the air and RB Bryan Bradford picked up 113 yards rushing; Marquez Cooper 2 rush TD. BG RB Terrion Stewart ran for 162 yards on 14 carries, 2 TD.
  • W vs. Akron, 69-35 — Kent State was 11/11 on third downs while Akron made 5/10. Akron RB Teon Dollard had 4 rush TD and over 200 yards, but Crum was super efficient (22/25) in his 3-TD day.
  • L @ Buffalo, 70-41 — Jaret Patterson’s huge game: 409 rushing yards, the second-most in an FBS game.
  • no contest @ Miami
  • no contest vs. Ohio

2021 Kent State football schedule

SP+ preseason rank: 111 (71 offense, 123 defense)

  1. at Texas A&M
  2. vs. VMI
  3. at Iowa
  4. at Maryland
  5. vs. BGSU
  6. vs. Buffalo
  7. at WMU
  8. at Ohio
  9. bye
  10. vs. NIU (Wed.)
  11. at CMU (Wed.)
  12. at Akron
  13. vs. Miami

4 Things

1. Dustin Crum: MAC’s top QB?

This wasn’t supposed to be Dustin Crum’s stage. When Lewis was hired in, he got Woody Barrett, an Auburn-to-juco bounceback quarterback that had a 4-star rating out of high school to come to Kent State and lead the offense in the Flash Fast pace Lewis was looking for. Crum spent a year developing on the sidelines and, by the time 2019 rolled around, became the QB that was too good not to start.

Now, Crum is in his third year as the offense starter while Barrett put his name in the transfer portal to find playing time elsewhere. Not only is Crum earning his playing time at Kent, but he’s shredding the league with his productivity.

Name2020 pass stats Career pass stats (33 gamesNotes
Dustin Crum83/113 (73.5%), 1,181 yards (10.5 Y/A), 12 TD, 2 INT, 192.7 QBR, 4 games332/483 (68.7%), 4,214 yards (8.7 Y/A), 35 TD, 6 INT, 163.5 QBR2020 First Team All-MAC
Kaleb Eleby98/152 (64.5%), 1,699 yards (11.2 Y/A), 18 TD, 2 INT, 194.8 QBR, 6 games190/299 (63.5%), 2,791 yards (10.1 Y/A), 22 TD, 5 INT, 11 games2020 Third Team All-MAC
Drew Plitt164/250 (65.6%), 2,164 yards (8.7 Y/A), 17 TD, 6 INT, 156.0 QBR, 8 games529/835 (63.4%), 6,520 yards (7.8 Y/A), 50 TD, 24 INT, 143.0 QBR, 32 games2020 Second Team All-MAC

But is Crum the league’s best quarterback?

Talent-wise, Crum might not be the most impressive quarterback if we’re looking for overall athletes (I’d lean towards Western Michigan’s Kaleb Eleby on that front). But as far as running the Kent State offense (vs. MAC East defenses), you can’t really ask him to do much more than what he’s doing right now.

Kent State’s entire starting offensive line from last year returns for 2021, which usually means that the protection for Crum should be good. With the kind of athleticism and speed you find at receiver for this team, it’s hard to pick against Crum continually popping off on the box score.

2. The RBs

Kent State’s offense will get a lot of praise because of what it can do through the air. But this group of running backs might also have a case to be one of the MAC’s best groups.

  • Marquez Cooper (2020 stats: 56 att., 282 yards, 5.0 avg., 5 TD)
  • Bryan Bradford (37 att., 254 yards, 6.9 avg.)
  • Xavier Williams (27 att., 216 yards, 8.0 avg., 3 TD)
  • Joachim Bangda (6 att., 37 yards, 6.2 avg.)
  • Daniel Bangura (6 att., 32 yards, 5.3 avg.)

Kent has enough variance of size, speed, and strength among each of these guys so there’s a lot of options in the ways this team might try to pick up tough yards in short-yardage situations. Of the freshmen who started to breakout in last year’s shortened season, Marquez Cooper is on the smaller side (5’6, 184 lbs.) while Bryan Bradford is slightly bigger (6’0, 243 lbs.) — both were in their freshman seasons in 2020.

3. Defense needs to be fixed, pronto

The offense will games by scoring a lot of points. This team needs the offense to score a bunch because this defense hasn’t really done this team many favors.

  • 10/19/19 ( L, 45-38) at Ohio) – The last time Kent State played Ohio, the dual-threat combo of Nathan Rourke and RB Demontre Tuggle combined for 159 rush yards and 4 TD, including 3 scores in the second half for OU to edge out the victory.
  • 11/17/20 (W, 69-35 vs. Akron) – A win, but the Flashes still gave up 35 points to Akron at home. Akron’s QB had 0 TD and 1 INT, but RB Teon Dollard ran for 202 yards and 4 TD.
  • 11/28/20 (L, 70-41 vs. Buffalo) – Jaret Patterson ran for 409 yards and scored 8 TD to destroy the Flashes.

The Flashes were the sixth-worst team in the country last year in rush defense with 6.16 yards per carry allowed, and 19 rush TD scored against (t. -93rd). In 2019, Kent State gave up 5.09 yards per carry and was scored against 34 times.

There’s some talent that Kent State likes, and admittedly this team was a little bit young on defense in 2020. If the defense can mask its errors against the run with some turnovers through the air, then this group will be able to keep the team’s offense in business. But nobody’s going to force the ball downfield if there’s no reason to go away from the run game.

4. This has to be the year, right?

Starting QB, age 22, returns for his third year as the starter. Head coach, and most of the positional coaches, are back. There’s speed and strength across the other skilled spots on offense. And the starting O-line is all coming back (LT Bill Kuduk, LG Adam Gregoire, C Jack Clement, RG Nathan Monnin, RT Daniel Johnson). There’s more than enough here, on offense, to buy into Kent State’s chances of making it to Detroit for the first time in nine years.

On defense, it’s tough tonhonestly give this team a good forecast. Maybe returning talent and incoming transfers will help, but that seems to be a benefit for a lot of other schools too.

Talent-wise, this team right now is probably the best one of the Sean Lewis era.

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