Ripping off the rearview mirror: A Kent State football preview

The Flashes poured orange Gatorade on coach Sean Lewis after winning the school’s first bowl game on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. 

Months of uncertainty for Kent State’s football team have turned into mere hours before the Flashes’ season opener. 

The unusual timing and circumstances of the season are not the only changes since last year, as expectations are high coming off the program’s first ever bowl win.

But coach Sean Lewis is not looking to dwell on that historic season.

“When we came back in January we ceremonially ripped the rearview mirror off and have been looking forward,” Lewis said in a press conference. “We lost a lot of good football players  guys who were cornerstones of the program that we built. But the foundation that they laid down is something that we can build on.”

The goal for Kent State this year is to make history again by winning its first Mid-American Conference championship game.

The Offense

The defining character of Kent State’s football team under Lewis is the “FlashFast” offensive scheme put in place by himself and offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder. It is an aggressive, up-tempo scheme that allowed the Flashes to go on rapid scoring runs in 2019.

The FlashFast scheme was headed by quarterback Dustin Crum, who was the backup until Kent State’s second game in 2019. Crum took the starting job and never looked back, finishing the season with 2,625 yards and a 20-2 touchdown-interception ratio while completing 69% of his passes. 

Far removed from his time on the bench, Crum was named co-MVP of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl after leading the Flashes to their first bowl game win. He was also named to Pro Football Focus’s preseason All-MAC first team.

Crum is locked in again as the starter, and will be backed up by Woody Barrett, who began last year as the starter. But who will be catching passes from Crum is much less certain.

Three of the Flashes’ top four receivers are no longer with the team, leaving the team with plenty of production to fill. Luckily for Kent State the leading receiver that is returning is one of the best players in the MAC.

Isaiah McKoy led Kent State in receiving yards with 872 and receiving touchdowns, with eight. That was enough for McKoy to lead the MAC in receiving touchdowns (a tie with Western Michigan’s Giovanni Ricci) and have the second-most receiving yards in the conference.

The ranks of the receiving core could be filled by two JUCO transfers in Keshunn Abram, in his second year with the program, and Isaiah Wooden. Also look to true freshman Luke Floriea, who chose Kent State over power five schools, and Isaac Vance. Vance played almost exclusively on special teams in 2019, but he has emerged as a leader on the team this offseason.

Crum made history in 2019 by leading Kent State in rushing yards with 707, also tacking on six rushing scores. The Flashes lost their two leading running backs, and last year’s third-string back Xavier Williams will lead the attack. Williams totaled 393 yards on the ground and was an effective pass catcher out of the backfield.

He will be working behind an offensive line that is relatively small, but gets good push off the line in the running game. Kent State averaged 186.5 rushing yards per game last year and returns four of five starters on the o-line. The unit’s real challenge will be in protecting Crum, who was sacked 38 times last season.

The Defense

The Flashes’ high-flying offense was a necessity last season, as the defense gave up huge numbers. Kent State gave up 244.7 yards per game, 127th in FBS, and 31.8 points per game, ranking them 97th. Defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman has his work cut out for him in reducing those numbers, as his defense will only return five starters.

The bright spot for the defense is the linebacker core, which has three of those five starters. Linebackers Mandela Lawrence-Burke and Cepeda Phillips lead the Flashes in tackles, with 104 and 93 respectively. Kesean Gamble also contributed at linebacker and edge rusher, contributing 53 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

The defensive backs will be led by returning starter Keith Sherald Jr. who put up 3 interceptions and 86 tackles in his junior season.

Kent State needs some young players to step up and lead the defense, and only time will tell who that will be.

Special Teams

Special teams proved crucial to Kent State’s season last year, contributing heavily to the team’s stunning come-from-behind victory against Buffalo last year. That win was a turning point in the 2019 season, after which Kent State seemed like a new team. It helped the Flashes get to 6 wins and clinch a bowl berth. It was a win that was sealed by a blocked kick which was recovered by Isaac Vance, who will look to contribute on offense this year as well.

The shining star of Kent State’s special teams unit, and arguably the best player on the team, is kicker Matthew Trickett. Trickett has been named a team captain this season, and will look to replicate his high accuracy from last year. He hit all 39 of his extra points and put through 29 field goals, most in the MAC, on 85.3 percent accuracy, second-best in the conference.

Kent State has lost its punter from last year, as Derek Adams transferred to Northwestern, and will have to replace him with freshman Josh Smith. If Smith struggles, Trickett has shown his ability to punt in the past and may step up to that role.

Special teams won the Flashes a number of close games last season, and may prove crucial again.

The Short

Kent State has significant momentum coming off of a historic 2019 season, and has the offensive power to compete for a MAC championship. If the Flashes can put together a defense strong enough to maintain any leads they put together, they have a very serious shot at winning the MAC and returning to a bowl game.

Kent State opens up its season at home on Nov. 3, against a tough Eastern Michigan team which the Flashes beat at the end of last season to clinch bowl eligibility.

Owen MacMillan is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.