Frisco Bowl provides Lewis money, recruiting opportunities

Kent State coach Sean Lewis comforts quarterback Woody Barrett as he walks off the field after he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct during a a touchdown celebration in Kent State’s game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Flashes lost, 31-24.

The Frisco Bowl has given coach Sean Lewis two things that seemed doubtful just a month ago— money and time. 

Lewis’ $440,000 salary saw a $15,000 boost on Dec. 7 after leading Kent State to its first bowl game since 2012. In the second year of a five-year contract, Lewis could get another $5,000 if they beat Utah State, which would bring his salary for this season near the $460,000 mark.  His salary will increase to $460,000 for the next two seasons and $480,000 in his fifth year at the university. 

He wanted more time with his 16 seniors and more time to parlay his team’s success this season to success on the recruiting trail. The Flashes finished 6-6, including 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference.

Lewis can point to the team’s recent success after a 3-6 start that saw it lose three straight conference games by one possession. They finished the season on a three-game winning streak, winning each game by one possession. 

During the 2018 season, they did not win three games period.

From 2013 to 2018, Kent State won 16 games. Over that time, the closest the team came to a bowl game was a four-win season in 2013. 

Seven seasons ago, Kent State’s offense led by running back Dri Archer, finished 11-3, 8-0 MAC. They ended the season with a 17-13 loss to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, dropping Kent State to 0-3 all-time in bowl games.

In some ways, the 2019 team’s success runs parallel to that of the 2012 team. Instead of a premier running back, they have a premier quarterback. Junior Dustin Crum stepped into the role filled by former Auburn quarterback Woody Barrett. In a surprise decision, Barrett was benched in favor of Crum after a poor first-half performance against Arizona State.

Crum’s final stat line: 3-for-8 for -3 yards. After an abysmal third quarter, Lewis went back to Barrett. He finished 9-for-16 for 83 yards and a touchdown. 

“Woody is our guy,” Lewis said after the 30-7 loss on Aug. 29. “He’s our quarterback, but I feel very lucky to have two guys that we can go to. We used this as an opportunity to get both guys some game reps and took advantage of that moment.”

The “Woody is our guy” narrative quickly shifted as Crum started the next week in a 26-23 overtime win over Kennesaw State. He went 17-for-23 for 192 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Isaiah McKoy. 

Lewis changed his tone in the postgame press conference.

“Even though there’s a depth chart in place and we release it, (the players) know each and every single week that there’s competition to earn the right to start,” Lewis said. “That’s across the board at every position.”

Two weeks later, Crum became the first Kent State quarterback to finish with over 300 yards passing in a game since 2014, cementing his role as the starting quarterback moving forward. 

Crum’s offense scored nearly six more points per game than Barrett’s last season (23.9 ppg to 29.2 ppg).

Last season, Crum’s most notable play came on a pooch punt that netted zero yards in a 48-14 loss to Buffalo. He finished last season 16-for-27 for two touchdowns, while adding 19 rushes for 111 yards and a touchdown. 

Simply put, he did not look like a starting quarterback of a bowl-eligible team in the MAC. 

This season, he threw 18 touchdowns and two interceptions, adding five rushing touchdowns. His 18 passing touchdowns are the most for a Kent State quarterback since 1997.

Crum helped lead an offense that saw several key playmakers out with injury, suspension or dismissal from the team. 

Senior running back Jo-El Shaw was the feature back at the beginning of the season, but he was suspended for the Akron game for an undisclosed reason and was dismissed from the team less than three weeks later.

After Shaw’s dismissal, senior Will Matthews, sophomore Xavier Williams and true freshman Joachim Bangda each had career games that helped secure wins. 

The Flashes’ top two receivers each spent time away from the team. 

Senior Mike Carrigan missed the first two games of the season and started in a 55-16 loss at Auburn after Lewis said he was “doing the right things” leading up to the game. He finished the season with 40 catches for 535 yards and five touchdowns.

Sophomore Isaiah McKoy also missed time due to a coach’s decision. Prior to the 24-point comeback win against Buffalo, Lewis was asked about McKoy’s availability.

“If he handles his business the right way this week, (he’ll play),” Lewis said prior to the Buffalo game.

McKoy did not play.

A week later, returning from a two-game absence, McKoy caught three touchdowns and finished with 159 yards receiving in a 41-38 win over Ball State. 

He finished the season with a team-high 50 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Crum, McKoy and Carrigan will each need to play well for Kent State to pull off an upset against Utah State. 

With a bowl win, Lewis can cash $5,000 more and also bank on the Flashes longest win streak in seven seasons to net him the best recruits of his short Kent State tenure.

Contact Ian Kreider at [email protected]