Missed opportunities, uptempo offense highlight Flashes’ season opener

Kent State coach Sean Lewis looks toward the scoreboard during Kent State’s game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Flashes lost 31-24.

Ian Kreider

Midway through the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Woody Barrett uncorked a long ball to junior running back Justin Rankin, but the ball, like the game, was just out of reach.

During that drive, the Flashes opted to kick a field goal to extend their lead to 10-3. Barrett trotted onto the field at the start of the game after an offseason full of speculation at the quarterback position, as Barrett spent the offseason battling incumbent Dustin Crum for the starting spot.

He started the game 0-for-5 with two throws batted down at the line. He quickly settled in later in the first quarter, leading the Flashes down the field to take an early 7-3 lead. He finished the game 28-for-41 with 270 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 6-foot 2-inch, 236-pound quarterback also proved he could impact the game on the ground. He finished with 117 yards on 18 carries and one celebration-filled touchdown. Barrett was flagged as he threw the ball high into the air as Kent State (0-1) retook the lead, 24-17, with 3:20 left in the third quarter. The unsportsmanlike penalty set up a three-play, 55-yard drive for the Fighting Illini that knotted things up, 24-24, as the quarter came to a close.

The Fighting Illini were ultimately able to punch the ball into the end zone to take the lead, 31-24, on a one-yard run by Reggie Corbin with 10:39 left in the game. The Flashes drove down the field but came up short on fourth down as Barrett was intercepted in the end zone after a successful Illinois blitz.

“No moral victories here,” coach Sean Lewis said after the game. “We came on this trip to win this game.” 

If there was one thing to take away from the game, it was Lewis’ implementation of the uptempo offense. The team was getting plays off so quickly that at times even the chain crew had trouble keeping up. The team ran 84 plays and picked up 453 yards.

“I’m used to it,” Lewis said of the team’s pace. “I’ve seen it work for the past six years.”

The tempo resulted in some quick three-and-outs in the second half, during which Illinois cut into the Flashes’ 17-3 halftime lead.

“It’s what we do; it’s who we are, so the lulls don’t bother us at all,” Lewis said. “Our defense embraces what we do offensively, and it gives them an opportunity to get on the field and make plays.”

Lewis is now 0-1 as a coach, but today’s loss marked the closest game between Kent State and a Big Ten school since the team lost, 24-0, against Penn State in 2010.

“There’s always a little energy on game days, especially today, but we tell our kids to treat practice like a game,” Lewis said. “The only difference is that when you walk between those white lines, there happens to be people in the stands and there’s cameras in your face and they get a chance to see you play.”

The Flashes rolled the dice, going for it on fourth down six times throughout the game. The team finished 4-for-6 with all four conversions coming from Barrett runs.

“Every call to win the game,” Lewis said sternly. “No risk it, no biscuit.”

The team will look to build on the game throughout the week as it head into Saturday’s game against Howard (0-1). Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. at Dix Stadium.

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