Flashes v. Long Island preview: a much-needed break back home

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

Coming off losses to two Power 5 schools, Kent State faces non-FBS Long Island University in its home opener.

The Flashes will play the Sharks for the first time in program history at noon Saturday. The teams share a 0-2 record.

“Each week has its own unique set of challenges,” coach Sean Lewis said. “We’re going to study our opponent, we’re going to have respect for them and we better hold this opponent and this process of winning in high regard. We’re going to do that because that is what our standard of expectation is in our Kent State football family.”

No. 7 Oklahoma beat the Flashes 33-3 Sept. 10 after a second-half surge. KSU lost to the Washington Huskies 45-20 in its season opener.

LIU comes to Dix Stadium after losing 37-0 against Toledo in its home opener, then falling 38-21 to Villanova last week. 

“They have had their own test,” Lewis said. “But you can tell from week one to week two that they are making improvements.”

The Flashes matchup against an LIU team that allowed the most defensive yards in the Northeast Conference last year – 465 per game. 

Last week against Villanova, LIU’s defense allowed 561 total yards. Kent State allowed 430 yards from Oklahoma’s offense.

KSU has yet to make any interceptions — starting quarterback Collin Schlee and freshman backup quarterback Devin Kargman have split four thrown interceptions.

The Sharks were able to force four turnovers on the Wildcats Sept. 10. Lewis sees their defense as competition. 

“They are very opportunistic defensively,” Lewis said. “They deploy a similar defensive structure to where they are going to utilize a lot of talented DB’s.

Redshirt sophomore Victory Nelson Jr. is one of those defensive backs. He comes in leading the NEC in interceptions with four already on the year. Alongside him in the secondary is the NEC’s current leading tackler, fellow senior defensive back Antwan Spencer – who totaled 123 tackles last year. 

Redshirt junior wide receiver Dante Cephas is the face of the Flash offense in the receiving game this season, with 155 receiving yards, which is fifth in the Mid-American Conference.

Kent State has averaged just 317.5 offensive yards, third worst in the Mid-American Conference. Central Michigan has the MAC’s leading offense with 546 yards per game. 

Not only did the Sharks struggle on defense last year, but they struggled offensively – finishing with the second-worst offense in the NEC. They averaged 248.5 yards per game.

This season, Long Island has allowed 499 yards per game. KSU’s defense has allowed an average of 477.5 yards per game.

Linebacker Khalib Johns led Kent State with two tackles and two sacks last week.

The graduate student was named MAC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. Sophomore punter Josh Smith won MAC Special Teams Player of the Week. 

“It shows the hard work both of those kids put in,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, it adds some fuel to them and is an energy source for them and for our program, that when you work really hard good things happen.”

Graduate student quarterback Derek Green will be behind the LIU ball for the third time in his long collegiate career Saturday. 

Green transferred from Southern Methodist University, where he served as a placeholder and a backup quarterback from 2018-2021. 

His father, Trent Green, was an NFL quarterback for 15 seasons. During his tenure, this Green was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Chiefs and played backup for the Rams in the 2000 Super Bowl. 

The graduate student earned his first collegiate start this year against Toledo. He passed for only 32 yards on 7 for 16 passing attempts and one interception. The Shark’s first-year QB had better stats against Villanova, passing for 230 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“Offensively, you can tell they are sound, and they are coming together, and the quarterback play has gotten better and better,” Lewis said. “A talented group and they got some dynamic guys that are all-conference performers that we need to be aware of.”

Schlee, Kent State’s redshirt junior QB, has had a challenging start to his first season as starter. He is averaging just 112.2 passing yards per game. But Schlee has made it work with his legs, rushing for 51 rushing yards per game. 

“He has done a really nice job making good decisions,” Lewis said. “He thrives when he is off script and is outside the pocket. That is something we need to build upon and highlight as we continue to move forward.” 

After their breather against the Sharks, the Flashes are back to Power 5 competition. Next Saturday, they travel to Athens, Georgia, to take on the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs, last year’s national champions. 

“Outside of our building, we don’t think about who the opponent is,” Lewis said. “You have to have that knowledge, and you have to get that information of who you’re playing, but ultimately the real strength and the true power and true wisdom is to know yourself and to know what you stand for.”

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