Kent State fails to capitalize in red zone, drops game to Maryland

Dante Cephas makes a catch against Maryland in College Park on Saturday Sept. 25.

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

For the third time in four games this season, the Kent State football team had no problem driving down the field into the opposing team’s territory.

 But once down there, the Flashes failed to capitalize on the opportunity. And that proved to be their downfall in Saturday’s 37-16 loss to the University of Maryland. 

 “Obviously not the outcome that we were looking for,” coach Sean Lewis said. “But there were some moments where we really played well. I’m proud of how our team played through our non-conference schedule.” 

 KSU had 11 of its 13 drives end in Terrapins’ territory. Seven of those went into the redzone. But they could only score 16 points off of those trips, and only one of those scores was a touchdown. 

 The Flashes kicked three field goals and one punt past the 50-yard line. They would also fumble once down there, and end the first half at the 22-yard line following several penalties by Maryland to help the Flashes keep their drive alive before running out of time to score. 

 The other four drives all ended with KSU failing to convert on fourth down and turning the ball back over to the Terrapins’. 

 In week one, the Flashes drove into No. 6 Texas A&M’s territory in five of their first seven drives, but were unable to score more than three points. 

 Lewis acknowledged that self-inflicted wounds, like penalties, play a big part in that, also that he needs to look at himself. 

 “I need to take a deeper dive into our red-zone efficiency,” Lewis said. “The number of trips we had and the number of times we got into the end zone are not where we want to be. That’s not up to our standard.” 

 KSU was four for 16 on third downs, its second worst conversion rate this season after going three for 13 against Iowa last week. 

 The Flashes were also two for six on fourth downs. 

 Lewis said that he needs to be better in order for the team to see success on third and fourth down. 

 “I need to make sure that the schemes that we’re calling in those situations are to the matchups and coverages we’re going to see,” Lewis said. “It’s not to our standard and it’s not acceptable.” 

 After both teams punted on their opening drive, KSU’s defense did what it has done best this season: turn the ball over. 

 Junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s pass went through the hands of his wide receiver and into the hands of graduate student cornerback KJ Sherald for an interception. 

 It was the Flashes’ ninth interception of the season. 

 KSU came into the game second in the NCAA with 10 forced turnovers and first in college football with eight interceptions.

 “That’s what we force on defense is takeaways, takeaways, takeaways,” Sherald said. “We try to get at least three a game, but we didn’t do that, we only got two. So we still have work to do.”

 The Flashes had to settle for a 35-yard Andrew Glass field goal, but took the early lead 3-0. 

 Maryland answered back quickly, with Tagovailoa throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to senior Dontay Demus Jr. 

 Tagovailoa had a huge day, completing 31 of his 41 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns. 

 Lewis called Tagovailoa a “very efficient player.”

 “We knew that we were going to have our hands full,” Lewis said. “They force you to decide how you’re going to play them and what you’re going to take away. They were able to spread us out and get some plays.”

 Sherald said Tagovailoa’s performance was on the defense. 

 “They did a good job scheming us up,” Sherald said. “The quarterback was doing a good job IDing it and rolling out and making plays. It’s not about them, it’s about us executing our plays.” 

 Tagovailoa is now averaging 335 yards per game, the most in the Big Ten. He also has the best completion percentage in the Big Ten with 75.9. 

 The Flashes secondary allowed Demus, who leads the Big Ten in receiving yards per game with 111.5, to have four receptions for 108 yards. 

 KSU would drive into the redzone, but once again would be forced to settle for a field goal to cut the score to 7-6. 

 Maryland would drive down the field, and a 6-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett on the first play of the second quarter would put the Terrapins up 14-6. 

 The Flashes would go into Maryland territory after a pass interference call, but would punt from the Terrapins’ 48-yard-line. 

 Maryland would quickly score on a 3-yard run from redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis following a 64-yard bomb to Demus to go up by 15 points. 

 On the ensuing drive, Crum led the offense 56 yards down the field, throwing for 47 yards on the drive. 

 Crum threw for a season-high 308 yards and completed 19 of his 33 passes with one touchdown. 

 Lewis said Crum is “a gritty kid.”

 “He stood in there and never flinched,” Lewis said. “He was able to stand in there and eat some jabs, but throw knock out punches as well down range. He made some big, explosive plays.” 

 For the second week in a row, Crum faced a lot of pressure from the opposing team’s line. He was sacked five times, after being sacked seven times last week against Iowa. 

 KSU quarterbacks have been sacked 18 times this season, tied for the most in the Mid-American Conference. 

 “We were playing a good team with a defensive front,” Lewis said. “And their answer was to outnumber us, so we gotta get the ball up and away. And I thought at times [Crum] did that.”

 Sophomore running back Marquez Cooper, who led the team in rushing yards with 48, fumbled on the Maryland 11-yard-line. 

 It was a play reminiscent of last week against Iowa, where the Flashes once again had a chance to make it a one score game, and once again they fumbled that opportunity away. 

 KSU’s defense would force a punt and get the ball back to the offense, where another drive stalled in the red zone. 

 The Flashes sent their kicking team out, but tried to pull a trick play that appeared to work as Glass ran to ball into the end zone for a touchdown. A holding call would erase the play, and KSU would settle for a field goal. 

 It was one of two great special team plays taken back by a penalty for the Flashes. 

 In the fourth quarter Maryland attempted to punt the ball, but their punter was quickly swarmed and taken down by several KSU defenders for a 14-yard loss. 

 The play would have set up great field position for the Flashes, but an illegal formation penalty would give the Terrapins a second chance to punt. 

 Lewis said “special teams is always a priority.”

 “Our kids know that it’s a priority,” he said. “It’s always going to be a part of our game and a phase of the game that we don’t just participate in, but that we change the game with. The kids did that. They executed the plan perfectly, and we will continue to use that to our advantage.”

 KSU had two touchdowns called back in the first half because of holding penalties. 

 The Flashes had nine penalties for 84 yards. 

 “Anytime you have self-inflicted wounds that take points off the board, that’s obviously a huge impact and those are big momentum swing plays,” Lewis said. “We have to do a great job playing so good that those calls don’t come up.”

 After a Maryland field goal, the score was 24-9 at half time, the first time the Flashes trailed at halftime by double digits. In week one against No. 6 Texas A&M the score was 10-3 at halftime and last week against No. 5 Iowa it was 16-7. 

 KSU received the second half kickoff, and had great field position following a penalty that moved the kick up along with a 20-yard return. 

 The Flashes would face 4th & 10 at the Maryland 40-yard line, where they decided to go for it. 

 Crum would throw an incomplete pass, and it was the first of four times that KSU would turn the ball over on downs in the second half in Maryland territory. 

 The Terrapins would score two touchdowns to go up 37-9 with under six minutes left in the third quarter. 

 Flashes’ redshirt junior linebacker Matt Harmon ripped the ball out of senior wide receiver Brian Cobbs’ hands in the fourth quarter for KSU’s 11th forced turnover of the year. 

 Sherald said he was happy to see the defense fight to the end. 

 “[The loss] obviously hurts,” Sherald said. “But seeing us fly around and get the ball out, it shows we have a lot of heart. And that’s good going into conference play.”

 The Flashes would eventually reach the end zone on a 15-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas with under 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. 

 Cephas had a team-leading 151 receiving yards. 

 KSU ends their non-conference schedule 1-3, and they have the third best record in the East Division of the MAC, tied with Akron and Miami. 

 The Flashes had a tough opening schedule, with two of their opponents being ranked in the top six. Maryland, while unranked, was undefeated coming into the game, and is in the powerhouse Big Ten Conference. 

 KSU went toe-to-toe with each of those teams, being within two scores at halftime in each of those games. 

 Lewis said fighting is what the team is all about. 

 “We’re never going to lay down,” Lewis said. “And we’re never going to give in. We’re going to continue to fight, and we’re going to continue to compete. We’re resilient. It’s a high standard that we keep, so there is no choice when it comes to that.” 

 The Flashes open MAC football on Saturday at Dix Stadium at 3:30 p.m. against Bowling Green State University, which is one of five teams with a 2-2 record.

 The Falcons are coming off of a 14-10 upset of the University of Minnesota. 

 Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].