Third-quarter woes continue as football loses first MAC game

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The Kent State football team’s defense prepares to run a play against Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Saturday Oct. 16. 

The Kent State football team has been outscored in the third quarter 109-30 over its first seven games. 

That lingering issue would be KSU’s downfall in its 64-31 loss to Western Michigan University. 

“We didn’t do enough of the simple things at a high level to win,” coach Sean Lewis said. “They were able to make more plays than us. This is a tough obstacle that we will learn from, and we will grow from. We will be better because of it.” 

In last week’s win over Buffalo, the Flashes were outscored 28-3 by the Bulls in the third quarter after going into halftime with a 31-10 lead and found themselves trailing 38-34 to begin the fourth quarter.

KSU scored two touchdowns, and the defense was able to keep Buffalo off the board to give the Flashes a win. 

This week Kent State didn’t have the luxury of a huge halftime lead, and after trailing by six points at the half, the Flashes were outscored 27-6 in the third quarter and entered the fourth quarter in a 50-23 deficit that they were unable to overcome. 

Lewis said that the team did have a different approach to the third quarter this week. 

“We obviously have to do something differently again,” Lewis said. “We can’t keep doing the same things. That’s the definition of insanity, you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”

WMU’s offense completely dominated the KSU defense, which is last in the Mid-American Conference by allowing 477.5 total yards per game this season.

The Broncos had 652 total yards on offense, the most KSU has given up since their loss last season to Buffalo. 

“It always comes back to the little things,” Lewis said. “And the little things over time end up being big things. We have to do the little things at a really high level.”

The Broncos rushed for 341 yards and five touchdowns, the worst performance by KSU’s defense this season. 

“[WMU] did a good job getting the ball on the edge,” Lewis said. “And they did a nice job with the run-pass option game.”

Sophomore running back Sean Tyler led the Broncos run game with 169 yards and a touchdown. 

At the start it looked like it would be an offensive battle, as both teams’ opening drives ended with a touchdown. 

Graduate student quarterback Dustin Crum looked to build off of his historic performance last week, completing a 20-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas and then rushing for a 12-yard touchdown. 

Crum would go 15-of-26 with 210 yards and two touchdowns in the air. He wasn’t able to get anything going on the ground and was sacked five times. 

“They did a good job early attacking our protection,” Lewis said. “Our O-line and [offensive line coach Bill O’Boyle] did a good job adjusting with some of the things that they were doing early on. A lot of the production came late when things were one-sided, and they were pinning their ears back. Because of that, we used some of our double-cadence stuff and were able to get some explosive plays.” 

KSU’s offense, which leads the MAC in yards per game with 449.6, only had 362 total yards. 

WMU’s defensive front would give the Flashes issues all afternoon. After coming into the game leading the MAC in rushing yards with 239 yards per game, Kent State would only rush for 124 yards. 

“It got to the point where we were throwing it more,” Lewis said. “We didn’t have the balance that we like. It got away from us situationally, and we have to keep it closer in those critical situations.”

Graduate student running back Xavier Williams led the team in rushing with 39 yards. 

The only Flashes’ running back to score a touchdown was redshirt sophomore Bryan Bradford, who rushed for 24 yards after coming into the game with his team down by 27 points.

Redshirt sophomore backup quarterback Collin Schlee also entered late into the game, and threw for 28 yards while rushing for 20. 

Lewis said he saw those kids continue to fight.

“It’s a part of who we are,” Lewis said. “They’re going to go harder and longer no matter what the situation is. They love to play ball, and those kids did that. It was great to see.” 

With a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter, redshirt sophomore Kaleb Eleby would launch a 68-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior Jaylen Hall. 

The KSU secondary was torched by the Broncos’ passing game.

Eleby, who came into the game leading the MAC in touchdown passes (nine) and in passing yards per game (239.7), went 15-of-22 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 33 yards and one touchdown. 

The duo of sophomore Skyy Moore and Hall put up 288 of those passing yards. Moore had two touchdowns and Hall had one. 

Lewis called the receiving core “a really talented crew.”

“We knew that they were going to stress us out in a lot of different ways,” he said. “Their kids made some plays tonight, and our kids did as well. Unfortunately, their kids made more plays than our kids.”

KSU’s secondary had four pass interference penalties, including three on one drive that helped move the Broncos into the red zone and ended with a field goal.

Lewis said that limiting those penalties comes back to trusting the technique. 

“We need to know they’re going to be in a good spot,” he said. “And trusting our ability to make a play. Our kids have done a fabulous job of that all year long, and I don’t want to make too much out of one game.” 

The Flashes’ defense would allow WMU to drive past KSU’s 30-yard line on their next two drives, but held them to field goals on both occasions, including a strong defensive stand where Kent State’s defensive line stopped the Broncos from getting into the endzone on three straight tries from within the five-yard line. 

On the last drive before halftime, KSU would go deep into the redzone, but would be held to a field goal to into the second half trailing 23-17.

“We did a good job finding a way to get points,” Lewis said. “[After] that big drive at the end, it’s a one possession game. So the thought is to keep the main thing the main thing, go make corrections, know what’s going to be best coming out in the second half and go execute.” 

The Flashes got the ball to start the third quarter, and a touchdown drive would put them in the lead. Momentum would swing their way.

Williams had a 27-yard run on the first play, and the Flashes were already at the 50-yard line.

But on the next play redshirt junior Corvin Moment stripped the ball from Williams’ hands. The Broncos recovered and on the ensuing drive would score on a 13-yard run by junior running back La’Darius Jefferson. 

“Ball security is something we preach,” Lewis said. “We had the ball a little loose there. Our wrist was below our elbow. They have great players, and [Moment] did a great job poking it out. You put your defense at a disadvantage with how fast they have to go back out.” 

Kent State failed to fully recover from the turnover. They would punt on their next three drives. WMU would score on its next four. 

Lewis said that “turnovers are always crucial.”

“When you don’t win the turnover margin, it’s one of the most critical factors in determining who’s going to win the game,” he said. “It comes down to being in the proper sports, where you’re supposed to be, and taking advantage of those moments when they present themselves and when we get the opportunity to put our hands on the ball.” 

The Flashes’ defense, which entered the game third in the NCAA in turnovers with 16, had zero.

The Flashes drop to 2-1 (3-4 overall) in MAC play and are tied with Miami for first place in the East. WMU is 2-1 (5-2) and is tied for second with Ball State and Central Michigan in the West. Northern Illinois is in first and is the only MAC team undefeated in conference play. 

KSU will travel to Ohio University, which is 1-2 (1-6) and in fifth place in the East, on Saturday Oct. 23. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]