Ready for some MACtion: Football looks for action in homecoming conference opener

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

Kent State’s football program became the second team in two seasons to score more than 20 points on No. 1 Georgia Sept. 24.

But coach Sean Lewis is not resting on that performance as his team prepares for its conference opener against Ohio University Saturday.

“One of the biggest challenges this week is society telling us that we did a good job when all we did was come up close,” Lewis said. “All we did was compete and play hard. Those are expectations and those are givens within our program.”

The Bobcats were picked to finish fourth in the Mid-American Conference East in the preseason media poll. The Flashes were picked second.

Kent State heads into the MAC after a 39-22 loss to the Bulldogs – the reigning national champions. KSU and Alabama are the only teams in two seasons to score more than 20 points against Georgia.

The Flashes ended their tough non-conference schedule 1-3, with losses to No. 15 Washington and No. 18 Oklahoma. KSU won its home opener 63-10 Sept. 17 against non-FBS Long Island University.

This was the team’s largest margin of victory in over two decades.

“I think it is just important to win,” Lewis said. “When you have the opportunity to respect that process moment to moment to do the next right thing, that is huge.”

Ohio University has had some challenges of its own, with a 46-10 loss to Penn State and a 43-10 loss to Iowa State. OU is currently 2-2 on the season.

The Bobcats currently have the third-best offense in the MAC in total yards, averaging 416 yards per game. Redshirt junior quarterback Kurtis Rourke leads their passing game.

“They got a trigger man that has been doing it for a long time and has seen a lot of pictures,” Lewis said. “They trust him intimately. Last time out, they asked him to throw it 50 times and shoot. He went 41-for-50.”

The Bobcats are the MAC’s top passing team, putting up an average of 313.8 passing yards a game. Rourke is coming off a strong performance from last week, where he passed for 537 yards with four touchdowns for a 59-52 win over Fordham. He is 16th in the nation in passing yards per game.

The starting QB leads the MAC in passing yards with 1,195 yards.

“He is not only just throwing up those YOLO balls and hoping for the best,” Lewis said, “he is making great decisions. He is operating at a really high clip. Between his skillset at wide receiver and tight ends, they do a great job of utilizing the touches all around.”

Graduate student James Bostic leads OU’s receiving corps with 257 receiving yards on the year – eighth best in the MAC.

Kent State’s redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee has put up the second-lowest passing yards in the MAC this season with just 682.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Dante Cephas leads the Flashes’ receiving corps with 255 receiving yards, which is ninth best in the MAC. Right behind him is the speedy redshirt sophomore Devontez Walker with 246 receiving yards on the year, which is 10th best in the MAC. Walker has had back-to-back games with 50-plus yard receiving touchdowns.

“He has just put his head down and worked,” Lewis said. “He is always looking for more answers. He spends an unbelievable amount of time with coach Middleton, just looking at the nuance of the position. He is finding ways to put himself in great positions to be successful.”

Coach Matthew Middleton is Kent State’s wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator.

These offensive numbers are boosted by the team’s run-heavy offense. KSU is averaging a MAC-best of 189.3 rushing yards per game.

Junior running back Marquez Cooper leads the Flashes in rushing yards. He has the fourth-most rushing yards in the conference with 270 yards and four touchdowns.

Ohio isn’t as strong in the run game, averaging the third-lowest rushing yards per game with just 102.3. The Bobcats’ rush defense is sixth best in the MAC. They have allowed an average of 162 yards per game. Just above them is Kent State’s run defense, which has given up 158.8 yards per game.

“They are aggressive,” Lewis said. “There is quite a bit of movement within the front. They will show you a four-down front and a three-down front. They have no qualms about selling out and playing.”

Last week, Kent State forced three turnovers against Georgia. Ohio University has yet to come up with an interception this year. OU has struggled drastically in the pass game, giving up a MAC-worst average of 376.3 yards per game.

The Flashes’ defense has also struggled. It is tied for third worst in the MAC in the passing game. KSU on average gives up 289 passing yards and is tied with Northern Illinois for the third worst passing defense.

But Lewis likes what he sees from his secondary – led by new defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson. He came to the program in January 2022 from Northern Iowa.

“They are coming together,” Lewis said. “I think it speaks to each week as they get more and more comfortable within the new system. They can really help one another, they can be more aggressive and they can take a little bit more calculated shots.”

The Bobcats have the ability to get to the quarterback, being tied for third-most sacks in the MAC with nine. Schlee has shown his escapability, earning the 13th most rushing yards in the MAC with 179 yards as a QB.

“They almost have this mindset of ‘we are going to get home before that quarterback can get the ball off,’” Lewis said. “We have to do a good job of ID’ing the front, making sure we are good pass-protection wise so that we can stay upright and hopefully taking advantage of some shots down field.”

Kent State plays Ohio University at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Dix Stadium. Lewis expects a packed crowd for the homecoming game.

“When that opposing team is on offense, we have to have 20,000 people in Dix Stadium rocking and rolling and cheering and giving everything for these young men,” Lewis said, “because they give everything to the university.”

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