Extra Points: On driving the car, a comeback bigger than football and competency

Kent State coach Sean Lewis comforts quarterback Woody Barrett as he walks off the field after he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct during a a touchdown celebration in Kent State’s game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Flashes lost, 31-24.

Henry Palattella

1.     Minutes after Kent State’s 31-24 loss to Illinois Saturday, Sean Lewis had some business to take care of before his post-game press conference. Lewis’ attention was fixated on a moth on a nearby wall, the landing place it had chosen after doing a lap around his head. Lewis tried to flick it with his middle finger, but it flew away at the last second, with the sound of his finger hitting cement reverberating through the bowels of Memorial Stadium. Lewis, much like his team moments before, came close to their ultimate goal, but saw it slip out of their grasp.  

2.     Despite a disappointing final score, Lewis’ debut as coach of the Flashes can be chalked up as a positive effort. The Flashes had Illinois against the ropes for most of Saturday afternoon, before finally succumbing to the Illini’s comeback

3.     For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Flashes have a quarterback. For a good portion of their game, both the offense and defense were clicking. And while their second half collapse is frustrating for both the team and a fan base starving for success, it can be used as a building block for the reason of the season.

4.     “No moral victories here, we got on this trip to win this game and unfortunately, we let them off the hook,” Lewis said. “We beat ourselves down the stretch. For year one day one it’s something we can build on.”

5.     Woody Barrett impressed in his first FBS start, finishing 28-for-41 for 270 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 117 yards and a touchdown. However, Barrett also threw two interceptions, each of which was momentum-sucking in its own way.

6.     “it was good to see him settle in, I was really pleased with his poise and ability to communicate between drives,” Lewis said. “Obviously there are things we need to clean up. He needs to be more efficient in his passing game and I need to be much more efficient in coaching him throughout the week. We want him to drive the car fast. There’s spots where he can go even faster and make the tires sing, but I was pleased with his overall effort.”

7.     Barrett’s first interception came on the Flashes first drive of the second half. After his pass was bobbled, Illinois freshman Jartavius Martin came away with the interception. The Illini found the end zone on the ensuing drive, putting their comeback in full stride. Barrett’s second interception essentially sealed the game for Illinois. The Flashes drove to the Illinois four-yard line with two minutes left but were unable to find the end zone. Barrett ended up having to run for his life on fourth down and threw a ball up into the end zone as he was getting hit.

8.     Illinois defensive back Del’Shawn Phillips jumped in front of the pass, and Illini quarterback A.J. Bush broke off two big runs, sealing the victory for Illinois. Bush recovered from a rough first half to finish 13-for-23 for 190 yards passing to complement his 139 rushing yards. Bush won Illinois’ quarterback competition despite only being on campus since August, and it looks as if Lovie Smith made the right choice.

9.     The Flashes tempo was as fast as promised, and it looks like there’s room to be even faster. Kent State ran 84 plays on offense, with a handful of them coming as the Illini defense was still getting set, resulting in big plays. Barrett’s quick release and ability to keep plays alive with his legs are perfect for Lewis’ tempo.

10.  Jim Jones continues to be an absolute tackling machine. He finished with 11 tackles and a sack and looks to be in line for a big year alongside Matt Bahr. Lewis’ inherited cornerbacks didn’t look too shabby either. Jamal Parker had 10 tackles and displayed his sideline-to-sideline ball hawking instincts. Darryl Marshall forced a Bush fumble on a blindside sack. Elvis Hines broke up a pass and exchanged words with an Illini receiver. While their inability to stop the Illini in the second half is distressing, there are players in this defense who can make plays.

11.  The field position pendulum swung against the Flashes on Saturday. Starting punter Derek Adams didn’t play due to a hip injury sustained in practice this week, meaning backup Grant Urenovitch handled punting duties.  Lewis displayed some aggressiveness on the downs, going four-for-six on fourth down conversions. All four of the conversions were done on runs by Barrett.

12.  “No risk it, no biscuit,” Lewis said of his penchant for going for it on fourth down. “Every call to win the game.”

13. The Flashes still need to work on the battle for field position. Three of Illinois four scoring drives in the second half were in four plays or fewer thanks to great field position. Barrett gave the Flashes the lead in the third quarter on a touchdown run and was flagged for unnecessary celebration, a penalty that enforced on the kickoff. Three plays later, Illinois’ Mike Epstein dove into the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. Kent let the Illini back into this game in the second half, and field position was a big reason why.

14.  The Flashes first score came on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to Antwan Dixon. Dixon’s touchdown was a moment bigger than football. Dixon played in his first game since 2015 because of his battle with aplastic anemia.

15. “It felt good to be out there,” Dixon said. “Everybody believed in me. I got out there with my guys, it felt good.” Lewis praised Dixon’s passion and energy, and chances are that if the Flashes have any success this year, Dixon will be a part of it.

16. Overall, there were more positives than negatives that can be taken away from the game. Lewis is right, there’s no room for moral victories at the college level, especially at a program like Kent where losing has been part of the culture for so long. That being said, the Flashes look like they have a promising season ahead of them. Offensive competency is a step forward; having a gameplan and executing it (like the Flashes did most of Saturday) is a leap. The Kent State football team had fans of a Big 10 school booing their coach at halftime, which is something I never thought I’d be typing. Saturday was a step forward for the Flashes. We’ll see if next week is another step forward or two steps back.

The Flashes take on Howard University next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in their home opener. Talk to you then from Dix Stadium.