Lewis focused on basics heading into home opener

Kent State running back Justin Rankin rushes past Illinois’ Del’Shawn Phillips in the second half of their game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. The Flashes lost to Illinois 31-24.

Ian Kreider


The word came up three times in the first two minutes of Kent State football coach Sean Lewis’ press conference Monday.

Kent State (0-1) led Illinois, 17-3, through the first half after a strong showing on both sides of the ball. It appeared that the Flashes were going to pick up their first win against a “Power 5” opponent in recent years (0-15 in such games since 2010).

Defensively, the Flashes could not have played much better in the first half as five of the six Illini first-half drives ended in a punt or turnover. Senior Jim Jones finished the first half with a team-high 10 tackles. However, the second half was a different story as Jones finished with just one tackle while the Illinois scored four touchdowns to escape the early season upset.

“The way that we started in the second half was much more of some self-inflicted wounds,” Lewis said.  “We threw a high ball that led to an interception. We were in the proper places defensively, but we just didn’t bring our legs on tackles.”

The Illini combined for 279 yards on the ground, many of which came during the second half. All four of the team’s touchdowns came on the ground, with one of them being a 39-yard rumble to the end zone by junior running back Reggie Corbin.

“I had a great conversation (Sunday) with coach Kaufman and he said it best, ‘We fundamentally believe in fundamentals,’ and our fundamentals need to be better,” Lewis said. “When our fundamentals broke down that’s when those big plays happened.”

The Flashes had a chance to stop Illinois in the fourth quarter with two minutes left, but Fighting Illini quarterback A.J. Bush broke off a 20-yard run on first down to seal Illinois’ victory. 

Lewis did have some positive takeaways heading into the team’s next matchup against Howard.

“I was pleased overall, the number of loafs (low-effort plays) that we had, the lack of effort plays, was way way down, which was great,” Lewis said of his team’s performance. “So the guys are playing with enthusiasm, and they’re playing with energy, and I think that showed then when big plays happened on our sidelines.”

The Flashes will be facing off against Howard in their home opener for the second time in as many years. Last year, the Flashes snuck past the Bison, 38-31, thanks to two passing touchdowns from now-graduated  Nick Holley and two rushing touchdowns from sophomore Kesean Gamble, who has since converted to linebacker. 

Howard is led by sophomore quarterback Caylin Newton, who threw for 225 yards and a touchdown last year against the Flashes. Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, threw for 439 yards and rushed for 93 yards last week in the Bisons’ 38-32 loss to Ohio. 

Howard is no stranger to the big stage, as they burst into the national spotlight last year when they pulled off one of the biggest upsets in modern college football history, beating UNLV, 43-40, the week prior to their loss to the Flashes. 

“We just need to consistently execute our job,” Lewis said. “Guys need to know that their brother next to them is going to do his part so all they need to worry about is their 1/11, and we’ll be just fine.”

Kickoff is set for3:30 p.m. Saturday at Dix Stadium.

Ian Kreider is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]