Kent State’s historic rushing perfomance key in home opening win

Graduate student Nykeim Johnson (82) runs into the end zone to score a touch down during the football game against Virginia Military Institute. Kent State won 60-10.

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

Last week against Texas A&M, the second best rushing defense in the country last season, the Kent State football team ran for 226 yards.  

On Saturday against the Virginia Military Institute, the Flashes rushed for 494 yards, their most since 1954, as they defeated the Keydets 60-10 and improved to 1-1. 

It was KSU’s second largest margin of victory in the last 20 years. 

The Flashes now have 720 rushing yards in two games, the most of any college football team in the country. 

“We have a veteran offensive line, a group of running backs we feel highly about and a group of tight ends that can be advantageous for us in the trenches,” coach Sean Lewis said. “And when you can win in the trenches, you can dictate the flow and the tempo of the game.” 

Sophomore running back Marquez Cooper led the backfield with 119 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. Redshirt junior Daniel Bangura and junior Joachim Bangda had 80 yards and one rushing touchdown each.

Both Cooper and Bangura set career-highs in yards with their performances. 

KSU set the tone early, as quarterback Dustin Crum launched a 52-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas a few plays into the game. On the next play, Cooper scored on a two-yard run.

On Kent State’s second drive, Crum would break for a 35-yard rushing touchdown. Crum, the fifth-year leader of the Flashes, was coming off a rough performance against Texas A&M, in which he threw for 89 yards, rushed for 60 and had zero touchdowns. 

Crum would lead KSU to a 39-0 rout in the first half, the Flashes’ biggest halftime lead since 2015. He threw for 181 yards with one touchdown and ran for 77 yards with one touchdown before being pulled after the second quarter. 

“[Crum] is a great decision maker,” Lewis said. “And he was really efficient today. He’s needy, not greedy. He made the right choices in the run-pass option game.” 

Wide receiver Nykeim Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, was the only KSU player to score multiple touchdowns with a 14-yard rushing touchdown and a 20-yard receiving touchdown. He led the team in receiving yards with 54. 

Seven different Flashes scored during the game. 

The Flashes’ defense, who last week held the fifth ranked Aggies to only 10 points in the first half, only allowed VMI to score 10 points total. 

Lewis said one of the aspects of his team that he’s most impressed with is their ability to turn the ball over. 

“The defense is doing a great job following the plan,” he said. “They are really creating an identity and developing this mindset that when the ball’s in the air, it’s ours. There’s an opportunity to go get it, and they’re doing that.” 

A big reason for keeping the Keydets out of the endzone was redshirt junior cornerback Montre Miller, who intercepted the ball three times, the most by a Flash since 2008. 

All three interceptions came as VMI was driving into KSU territory. 

Miller gave credit to how Kent State game-planned for the Keydets.

“We had a good idea of what was coming because of the prep we did all week,” he said. “I’m also thankful for the defensive line for getting back there and getting pressure which put me in the right position to make a play. 

Fifth-year cornerback Elvis Hines also had an interception for KSU. Hines had two picks last week against Texas A&M. 

Miller said he and Hines have been going back and forth on outstanding performances since camp.

“I started off hot and then he flipped the script,” Miller said. “We just get in there and watch film together because we live in the same apartment. We’re just trying to come out each week and get better and better.”

The Flashes play next at No. 12 Iowa, which is 2-0 after a win today over No. 10 Iowa State, on Saturday Sept. 18 at 3:30 p.m.

“When we get into some ranked opponents, like Iowa, we know it’s going to be a tough environment,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a four quarter fight. But, this team continues to show it’s a tough and resilient group.”

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]