Flashes’ offense falters as team loses third straight game



Nick Shook

Kent State defenders struggle to take down the Penn State quarterback during a game on September 21. Kent State lost to Penn State, 34-0. Photo by Melanie Nesteruk.

Kent State can change the opponent, the venue and the time of kickoff, but for the last three games, it has not been able to change the result.

The Flashes (1-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) struggled mightily yet again on offense and lost their third straight game, 34-0, to Penn State (3-1) on Saturday at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.

After forcing a Penn State punt, Kent State started the game off with great field position on the opposing 36-yard line. The Flashes moved the ball inside Penn State’s 20, but kicker Anthony Melchiori’s field goal attempt was wide right, leaving Kent State empty-handed.

Melchiori’s try was the closest the Flashes would come to scoring all afternoon.

“You want to try to get momentum with points on the board,” Flashes head coach Paul Haynes said. “It’s definitely in Anthony’s range to make it. He just pulled it.”

The Flashes’ longest drive of the first half was their next, which lasted eight plays and gained a total of 31 yards. But in what would become a recurring theme Saturday, an incompletion on third down forced Kent State to punt.

The same followed for much of the first half, with Kent State gaining yards in small pieces, enough for a first down or two but then stalling well short of the red zone. The Flashes converted only three of 15 third-down attempts in the loss.

Haynes has emphasized since his arrival that he intends to make his team a run-first program, but Saturday, Kent State essentially disregarded the run for much of the game. Lead back Trayion Durham carried the ball a mere 11 times for 39 yards.

“We didn’t run the ball like we wanted to,” Haynes said. “Penn State always does a good job of piling in the box and making you have to throw it. We had a couple of opportunities to make some plays out there and we didn’t.”

Meanwhile, Kent State’s defense kept the Flashes in the game for much of the first three quarters before finally succumbing to extended playing time and a relentless rushing attack brought on by three Nittany Lions running backs.

Penn State tailbacks Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch combined to rush for 282 yards. Zwinak scored three touchdowns on the ground and Belton caught a pass for a touchdown, but it was Lynch who led the team with a career-high 123 yards on 14 attempts.

To make matters worse, Kent State lost another defensive lineman to injury. Defensive tackle Chris Fairchild — filling in for defensive tackle Nate Terhune, who was lost to a broken leg suffered against LSU — was helped off the field in the second quarter and eventually taken to the locker room on a cart.

“Our guys sat out there and they fought, kind of got worn down at the end,” Haynes said. “Started getting a couple guys banged up again and started going down the line with our guys. It’s kind of tough when you play against a physical team like Penn State and in an environment like it is here.”

Kent State entered the game without standout running back Dri Archer, who essentially sat out his third-straight game after missing the loss to Bowling Green and participating in just one play against LSU last week. The Flashes were also missing offensive lineman Pat McShane for the second straight game. Both dressed and did not play, but are expected to return next week.

“We know that [injuries are] a part of the game,” Haynes said. “It’s one of those years where it’s starting to happen a little bit more for us. Year in and year out, to me, that’s the luck of football; When people talk about being lucky, they stay healthy. I think that’s the one thing: we’re getting a lot of guys banged up. But that’s no excuse.”

The Flashes’ defense did an admirable job in the first half, limiting Penn State to 14 points and 216 total yards on 41 plays. PSU freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed just 11 of 21 pass attempts in the first half, and the Flashes held star wide receiver Allen Robinson to three catches for 43 yards. Robinson did not record a catch in the second half, as he was blanketed by a number of Kent State defenders, including cornerback Dylan Farrington, cornerback Darius Polk and safety Jordan Italiano.

“We had to know where [Robinson] was,” Haynes said. “These guys did a good job of covering him, but there was nothing special that we did to stop him.

But the second half was too much for Kent State’s defense, which spent a total of 32:44 on the field in the game and was unable to keep up with Penn State’s rushing attack. The Flashes’ offense did the defensive unit no favors, going three-and-out on five of eight second-half possessions.

Even David Fisher’s brief, three-play appearance early in the third quarter couldn’t get the Flashes’ offense going. Fisher was sacked for a 6-yard loss on third and four, forcing another Kent State punt.

Haynes said Fisher’s insertion was planned during the week in order to give him plays in a normal game environment and to keep him ready in case starter Colin Reardon goes down with an injury.

Dylan Farrington’s impressive interception on the next drive put the ball back in Kent State’s possession, but Reardon returned to the game to toss his first interception of the season on the next play.

It was that kind of day for Kent State.

“I think, as a whole, it just comes down to fundamentals,” Farrington said after the game. “Like coach said, it’s nothing special. It just comes down to little things. We have to just keep fighting throughout the entire game.”

The Flashes will continue their road trip with their second MAC game of the season Saturday against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].