East vs. West: MAC’s top-rushing teams face off with versatile lineups

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

Kent State football’s two nationally-ranked receivers will face Toledo’s top passing defense Saturday.

KSU’s redshirt junior wide receiver Dante Cephas is sixth in the nation in receiving yards and first in the Mid-American Conference with 619. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Devontez Walker is ranked 22nd in the nation in receiving yards and second in the MAC with 512.

“We have a lot of offensive weapons that we’re able to utilize,” coach Sean Lewis said. “With Cephas and Walker and their skillset, we’re going to lean on them quite a bit. They’ve warranted that attention and those sorts of touches.”

Toledo has only been surrendering 199.8 passing yards per game – the best in the MAC. The team is first in the MAC in interceptions with six.

The Rocket’s sophomore cornerback Quinyon Mitchell leads the MAC in interceptions with four.

“They are a very ball-hawking secondary,” Lewis said. “There were four straight possessions where they generated a turnover against Northern Illinois, so they were able to flip the field and generate points.”

Toledo’s defense has totaled five turnovers, four of them being an interception. Of the four INT’s, two resulted in a touchdown — both from Mitchell.

Kent State is 2-4 overall and ranks fourth in the MAC East at 1-1. Toledo ranks first place in the MAC West at 2-0 and 4-2 on the season.

Last week, the Flashes lost to Miami (OH) 27-24. They have yet to win on the road.

At Northern Illinois Oct. 8, Toledo earned a 52-32 victory against the reigning MAC champions. This was the team’s second-highest scoring game of the season.

The Rockets have put up at least 37 points in four of its six games so far this year.

“The team is playing really well,” Lewis said. “They’ve found ways to win big here in conference and generate a lot of turnovers. A talented club, coach (Jason) Candle and his staff have them playing really well.”

Toledo has the MAC’s top scoring offense, averaging 36.2 points per game. The Flashes are currently the sixth-best scoring offense, averaging 27.2 points per game.

This matchup features the two best rushing teams in the conference. Kent State is the first in, averaging 200.7 rushing yards per game. Junior running back Marquez Cooper leads its backfield. He ranks 23rd in the nation in rushing yards and is third in the MAC with 542 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Toledo, second best, is led by sophomore quarterback Dequan Finn, who has totaled 368 rushing yards. He ranks eighth in the MAC.

Against NIU, Finn passed for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He has the eighth-most passing yards in the MAC with 1,134.

“Their quarterback is a special player and is able to do it in a lot of different ways,” Lewis said. “He is very dangerous with his arm and his feet. He has five rushing touchdowns on the year, so he is very dynamic in that aspect.”

This QB’s favorite target is sophomore wide receiver DeMeer Blankumsee – he leads the Rockets with 341 receiving yards.

Kent State’s redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee sits at 14th in the MAC in rushing with 283. In last week’s loss to Miami, he had a 306-yard passing performance with three passing touchdowns. Schlee has had back-to-back 300 yard passing games and is currently fifth in the MAC in passing yards with 1,386.

On the ground, the Rockets sophomore running back Jacquez Stuart ranks 10th in the MAC in rushing yards with 350. Stuart had a 122-yard rushing performance last week and ran in one touchdown. He has totaled three touchdowns so far this season.

Sophomore running back Peny Boone has earned 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

“Both of their backers are athletic kids that can run sideline to sideline,” Lewis said. “They create a lot of havoc on defense. They create a lot of penetration, and their defensive linemen Desjuan Johnson is a kid that can play out on the edge or he can play inside and is very disruptive.”

Toledo’s defense of rushing games sits at sixth in the MAC, allowing 153.5 rushing yards per game. Johnson is fourth in the MAC in tackles for loss with five. He has five assists.

Kent State is fifth in the MAC in passing offense, averaging 236.5 passing yards a game.

“That’s why our offense over the years has been very balanced,” Lewis said. “When numbers are right in the box for the rushing attack, we’re able to run the ball. When numbers are right in the throw game, we’re able to throw it and our kids do a great job of executing that.”

Kickoff is set for 3:30 Saturday at Glass Bowl Stadium.

Lewis wants to limit his opponent’s ability for big plays this weekend.

“A majority of the game we’re playing with good eyes, good technique and good fundamentals,” Lewis said. “But there have been those one off breakdowns that have been happening in crucial times that are leading to explosive plays and usually generate points.”

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