Flashes v. No. 7 Sooners preview: Looking to start anew at OU

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

Week one’s matchup with the Washington Huskies came and went.

But it doesn’t stop there as Kent State’s football team hits another roadblock in No. 7 Oklahoma University.

Saturday, the Flashes face their second of four non-conference challengers before Mid-American Conference play, and their new competitors will not be any easier.

The Sooners entered this season with a new quarterback and head coach, yet the team managed to put up 492 total yards and six touchdowns in its 45-13 victory Saturday against the University of Texas at El Paso.

The Flashes come in the weekend 0-1 after a 45-20 loss to Washington. The Sooners are 1-0.

Starting quarterback redshirt junior Collin Schlee will now take on back-to-back power-five conference schools for his first two starts with Kent State.

Against the Huskies, Schlee struggled. He passed for just 178 yards and one touchdown – 47 yards – with two interceptions. One interception came in the first play of the game.

Washington’s first-year QB Michael Penix Jr. threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

Kent State head coach Sean Lewis remains confident in his QB.

“I was really pleased with the way Collin leveled out,” Lewis said. “The way he was able to settle into the game and make some explosive plays really did some things in the confines of the offense where he wasn’t greedy and took what they gave him.”

Oklahoma had the BIG-12’s leading offense last year, however its two-star quarterbacks, Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler, left for USC and South Carolina, respectively.

Under then-head coach Lincoln Riley, the Sooners put up a Big-12 best of 451 total yards per game on offense last season.

Lewis sees this offense as a mirror of his own.

“The competitive advantage of it is that they are used to that pace,” Lewis said. “I think one of the advantages of playing fast is you can create this new reality that defense aren’t accustomed to, but when we look at their offense and what we do it is very much a mirror image in a lot of ways.”

Last weekend, Oklahoma had a very strong run game, with 259 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.

Last season, Kent State gave up 205.4 rushing yards per game, the third worst in the MAC. However, Kent State had the top rushing offense in the MAC last year averaging 248.6 yards per game.

In his first week of the season, Oklahoma’s new quarterback redshirt junior Dillon Gabriel, a transfer from Central Florida, passed for 233 yards and two touchdowns.

Gabriel played his best collegiate ball in 2019 with UFC, passing for 3,653 yards. Last year, he totaled 814 yards in three games before missing the rest of the season due to a broken clavicle.

After three years with the Knights, he holds the sixth-highest total of career passing yards in program history with 7,223.

Lewis acknowledged the talent of his QB Schlee’s competitor.

“He’s a guy that has seen a lot of different pictures and played in a lot of different venues,” Lewis said. “So the stage, and the moment, and the expectations and the standards that a tier-one quarterback has at this high level, he embraces it.”

Adding to its roster changeup from last season, Oklahoma is also without five-year head coach Riley, who moved to USC in November 2021. He left for California with a 55-10 record and 2020 Cotton Bowl Classic trophy from the Sooners.

“It’s a pretty unique situation with coach Riley leaving, with what he did with the opportunity he had,” Lewis said. “It wasn’t like it was a program that was down and out. It is a program that has played in the college football playoffs recently, and they are big-time and in a New Year’s Six bowl game, year in and year out.”

The Sooners brought in a familiar face with head coach Brent Venables, who won a national championship with Oklahoma in 2000 and made national title appearances in 2003, 2004, and 2008. During his stint at Oklahoma, Venable has been an associate coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

Venables then left to take over as the defensive coordinator spot at Clemson University, where he won two national titles.

Now back in Oklahoma, this new program leader inherits a defense that gave up the sixth-most yards per game in the BIG-12, allowing 390.8. Last game, the Sooners only surrendered 316 total yards.

But overall defensively, KSU has the worse numbers.

Against Washington, the Flashes were halted in the run game, only rushing for 193 yards. However, KSU only gave up 132 rushing yards against the Huskies – last season, they gave up an average of 205.4 rushing yards a game.

Last year, the Sooners only gave up 129.1 rushing yards per game.

In the passing game, Oklahoma gave up 261.8 passing yards per game last year – second worst in the BIG-12. Kent State allowed 266 passing yards a game last year.

Saturday, the Flashes gave up 525 yards and six touchdowns. Lewis said that came down to the fundamentals.

“I thought when our technique was proper, we did alright and were able to hold the point,” Lewis said. “When technique broke down, the physical play broke down as well, so we need to sustain that for however many snaps we need to.”

This type of performance is not a one-time incident for KSU, however. Last season, the team allowed 46 more yards than it scored. On last season, Oklahoma scored 173 more yards than its opponents.

However, the Sooners have a very strong run game where they are coming off a team 259 rushing yard performance and four rushing touchdowns.

Kent State gave up 205.4 rushing yards per game last year, third worst in the MAC.

Despite the nationally-ranked competition, Lewis sounded ready for the challenge with five days to go before the battle. Kickoff starts at 7 p.m. EST Saturday.

“We have a strong, resilient football team,” Lewis said. “When they play right in all three phases, we do things the right way. There are pictures that we learn from, and there is lots of good we can build off.”

Jacob Hansen is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].