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There’s always next year: Football looks forward to upcoming ‘youth movement’ as season ends

Emma Van Winkle
The Kent State football team celebrates a touchdown during the game against Bowling Green State University on Nov. 8, 2023.

First-year coach Kenni Burns and Kent State football will look to turn the page to the 2023-2024 season following the end of the season Nov. 25.

The Flashes closed out its 1-11 season with its final loss coming against Northern Illinois in a 37-27 defeat.

“The one thing that stood out was our guys’ ability to keep responding every day,” Burns said. “That’s why I know we’re going to be fine once this youth movement happens.”

KSU finished winless against Mid-American Conference opponents (0-8), which puts the team in last place in the MAC East, as well as last in the MAC as a whole.

“I thought we always battled pretty well, and the guys had given great energy and learned how to do things the way we wanted them to be done,” Burns said. “Going into the offseason, the big focus is, now, how do we compete harder for longer?”

Kent State has only finished over .500 in one season since 2013 and will miss out on a bowl game for the eighth time in 11 seasons. 

The team has appeared in four bowl games in its 97-year history.

Season recap

The Flashes stumbled out of the gate, dropping the first two games in Burns’ Kent GRIT (grow, respond with integrity together) era.

The University of Central Florida’s first game as a Big 12 school was a domination over Kent State. KSU allowed 723 total yards of offense against the Knights and did not score a touchdown in a 56-6 blowout.

The Flashes scored six points again in a 28-6 loss to Arkansas in the following week, quickly dropping to 0-2.

The season peaked in Week 3, when the Flashes defeated Central Connecticut State University 38-10.

The team allocated 467 yards of total offense and scored its first touchdowns of the season in the win. The defense had forced two interceptions.

What followed the win was nine consecutive losses – eight of which came against MAC teams.

After a bump in the road 53-10 loss to Fresno State, the Flashes looked forward to MAC competition but were immediately met with resistance.

The next four weeks the Flashes’ losses were decided by 14 points or more. After falling to 1-7, the team traveled to Akron to play the Zips, who were struggling just as much, as both teams had one win and no MAC victories.

Kent State took a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter but then gave up 21 straight points, including the dagger with 26 seconds left on the clock.

KSU suffered through two more lopsided losses before its final game against Northern Illinois.

“The biggest thing I told these guys in the spring was: ‘Don’t get caught up in the record. It is what it is this year. There are going to be some growing experiences for all of us,’” Burns said. “You just have to keep putting the work in, putting the effort in, and you’ll see it.”

At the beginning of the season, redshirt junior Mike Alaimo won the starting quarterback job. 

By the end, the Flashes had played three quarterbacks at different times.

Alaimo appeared in the first eight games of the season, passing for 932 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions, before being replaced by sophomore Tommy Ulatowski.

Ulatowski totaled 737 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions in three starts before suffering a season-ending injury against Ball State.

Sophomore Devin Kargman made his first-and-only start in the season’s final game, finishing the season with 297 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

After the NIU game, Burns said there would be competition for the starting quarterback role next season.

By the end of the season, KSU was ranked dead-last out of 130 teams in scoring offense, as the team could only muster 14.7 points per game.

The team ranked 129th in total offensive yards per game (270.4), 116th in rushing yards per game (106.6) and 120th in passing yards per game (163.8). 

The Flashes had scored the least amount of touchdowns in the nation (19).

Kent State did not fare much better defensively.

The Flashes were ranked 118th in scoring defense, allowing over 34 points per game.

KSU’s rushing defense ranked 106th in the nation (176.1 yards/game allowed), 124th in turnovers gained (9) and 127th in sacks (12), but it ranked 50th in passing defense (214.5 yards/game allowed).

Kent State ended the season with the worst record in the Football Bowl Subdivision – no other team had only one win this season.

“This year was disappointing, sure, from a win-loss total,” Burns said. “You definitely want to win more games, and it is not acceptable by any measure on my own standards.”

Breakout players

Despite the record, four Flashes were named All-MAC players, as voted on by conference coaches.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Chrishon McCray was the only player to make the All-MAC First Team.

He led the team in receptions (41), receiving yards (610) and receiving touchdowns (4), and he had his best game at Akron, where he caught six balls for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think you saw him at the beginning of the year, showing glimpses of being a pretty good player,” Burns said. “Then, by the end of the year, he was able to be a dynamic player before he got hurt.”

Junior kicker Andrew Glass made the All-MAC Second Team for his efforts. Glass knocked in 15 of his 17 field goal attempts and only missed one extra point attempt this season.

The kicker made the second-most field goals in the conference and sits second all-time in program history after surpassing 50 field goals.

Seniors Luke Floriea (wide receiver) and CJ West (defensive lineman) represented Kent State on the All-MAC Third Team.

Floriea finished the season with 39 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns.

West led the team in tackles for loss (seven) and finished with 40 total tackles and two sacks.

Looking toward the future

“I think the clay is in place,” Burns said. “I think this year was a great learning experience, not only for our team but for me as a head football coach. There are things that we’ll do next year that we did really well this year. There are things I know that I want to change already. It was a great learning experience for me, and I couldn’t be more excited about the future.”

Burns will look to use the offseason to build some success for the football program and looks to do so through the recruiting process and the transfer portal.

“Recruiting never stops,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll lose a couple of guys, but there are so many options in the portal that you can pick up some good players if you do a good job. We need some pieces to come on our roster, and honestly, we need to have some pieces move on from our roster that are stunting our growth as a football program.”

The team will look to get ready for next season after going through training.

“I would love to have more W’s, obviously, but I think the response mechanisms are there, and the ‘want-to’ is there,” Burns said. “Now, as coaches, we have to do our job and make sure the youth develops, grows, and turns into what we know it can be.”

John Hilber is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
John Hilber, Reporter
John is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a minor in psychology. This is his second year with the KentWired team as a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].
Emma Van Winkle, Photographer
Emma s a sophomore psychology major with a concentration in counseling careers and a minor in early intervention. She enjoys taking pictures, and her niche is sports – but she recently found a love for nature photography when she worked at a summer camp. Contact her at [email protected]

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