East vs. West preview: Football’s national leaders will go up against Ball State’s ranked stars

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

Kent State and Ball State will each bring three nationally-ranked offensive stars to Tuesday’s Dix Stadium battle.

“We are going to have our hands full,” coach Sean Lewis said. “We have to prepare the right way, and then we have to show up and be at our best.”

Leading KSU’s offense is:

  • Junior running back Marquez Cooper, the nation’s 11th-best rusher. He has 845 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He is second in the MAC in rushing.
  • Redshirt junior wide receiver Dante Cephas, who ranks 13th nationally with 731 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He is MAC’s leading receiver. 
  • Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Devontez Walker at 16th in the nation and fourth in the MAC in receiving yards. He has totaled 616 yard receiving yards with seven touchdowns. 

The Flashes face Ball State at 7 or 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dix Stadium. Kent State has won 12 straight games at home after defeating Akron 33-27 Oct. 22.

KSU is fourth in the Mid-American Conference East at 2-2 and are 3-5 overall. Ball State is 2-2 in the MAC West and 4-4 overall.

With the Cardinals are:

  • Sophomore running back Carson Steele, eighth in the nation in rushing yards with 890 and eight touchdowns. Steele is the MAC’s top rusher. 
  • Sophomore wide receiver Jayshon Jackson, who is the nation’s 23rd-leading receiver with 633 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is the MAC’s third leading receiver. 
  • Redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock, ranking 23rd in passing with 1,985 yards and with 14 touchdowns. He is the MAC’s third best passer.

Ball States’ talents are on Lewis’ radar.

“They have a wide receiver that they have targeted over 90 times, he is an explosive playmaker,” Lewis said. “They have a big, physical running game that they like to dictate and control the pace of play. They are playing at a much faster clip, and they are the seventh-fastest tempo team in the country.”

As of Monday’s weekly press conference, Kent State is dealing with injuries.

Cephas left Akron’s game with a lower body injury. His status for Ball State is unknown.

Redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee, who normally starts, missed last week’s game due to a lower-body bruise.

“He just didn’t get to a place where we felt comfortable that he could go,” Lewis said. “It’s our job and my job to protect these kids and put them in the best possible positions to be successful every single day, and it didn’t feel like he could do that.”

Freshman quarterback Devin Kargman has stepped in and won his first collegiate start. He passed for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Schlee averages 221.1 passing yards a game.

“He did a really good job once he settled in,” Lewis said. “He made enough big-time plays to manage the game as a whole so that he gave the whole family an opportunity to win it for him.”

Graduate student safety Antwaine Richardson, who has totaled 20 solo tackles on the season, is out for the year after suffering an injury to Toledo Oct. 15.

Junior defensive end CJ West, who has made eight solo tackles, did not play last game and is considered day-to-day.

Graduate student linebacker Marvin Pierre went down last game, but Lewis said he is good to go. Pierre is second on the team in solo tackles at 38. Graduate student safety Nico Bolden leads with 45.

Kent State is the MAC’s best offense in total yards, averaging 433.9 per game, and the MAC’s leading rushing team, averaging 209.6 yards per game.

Schlee is seventh in the MAC with 1,548 passing yards and eight touchdowns. He is 13th in the MAC in rushing with 339 yards and three touchdowns.

Cephas had his best performance of the season against Ohio University on Oct. 1, where he broke Kent State’s single-game record for receiving yards in a game – totaling 246.

Ball State has the MAC’s fourth-best passing game, averaging 248.1 yards.

The Flashes sits eighth in the conference in run defense. They give up an average of 166.9 rushing yards per game.

Kent State could have some trouble as the team is the second-worst passing defense in the MAC. KSU surrenders 287.9 passing yards a game.

Pierre leads the team with 38 tackles and is fourth in the MAC in that category.

The Cardinals have the second-best passing defense in the MAC, allowing 211.1 passing yards a game.

“Defensively, they are long, physical, athletic and play really hard,” Lewis said. “Their passing defense has been one of the best in the league, so they’ve been active.”

Junior cornerback Nic Jones is third in the MAC in passes defended with eight and has two interceptions.

Ball State is the second-worst rushing defense in the MAC. The team allows 185.4 rushing yards per game.

Cardinals QB Paddock has thrown nine interceptions in his first starting season– second most in the MAC. Ball State have forced five interceptions.

Kent State has forced four interceptions – two came from Akron’s game. Schlee has thrown four interceptions.

Kickoff is 7 or 7:30 pm Tuesday at Dix Stadium.

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