Kent State Scouting Report
This Saturday marks the end of a 244-day absence of football in Happy Valley. Here is what you need to know about the visiting Kent State Golden Flashes for their matchup with Penn State on opening weekend:
The Golden Flashes participate in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Although the Golden Flashes have reached just two bowl games in 55 years, they have notable former players such as Nick Saban, James Harrison, Julian Edelman, and Lou Holtz.
Penn State and Kent State last met in 2013, a 34-0 win for the Nittany Lions that came in head coach Paul Haynes’ first season with Kent State. Now, Haynes is entering his fourth season at the helm, but he’s very familiar with Penn State and Beaver Stadium beyond his 2013 experience. Haynes was a defensive backs coach for Ohio State from 2005-11. In an interview this week with The Altoona Mirror’s Cory Giger, Haynes spoke about his visits to Happy Valley with the Buckeyes.
“Ever since that 2005 game, every stadium that I pull into, I always gauge it based off of that Penn State look on how the crowd is going to be,” Haynes said. “It made a huge impact because I think it’s one of the loudest, I think it’s one of the rowdiest.”
Last season, Kent State struggled to a 3-9 record (2-6 MAC) due to their horrendous offensive displays, despite the fact that they possessed one of the more consistent defenses of all the non-Power 5 conference teams.
Among all 128 FBS football programs, Kent State’s multiple-style offense ranked in the bottom 20 in: scoring (last), total yards per game (second to last), passing (121st), and rushing (108th). Despite this lack of success, the Golden Flashes do return 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball and are using a wide array of their personnel.
Kent State returns two quarterbacks who’ve combined to start 35 out of the last 36 games. However, neither of them will start behind center on Saturday. Colin Reardon, a senior with 30 career starts at quarterback and ranks among the top 5 in school history in career completions, passing yards, and touchdowns, has now been moved to wide receiver indefinitely. George Bollas, a redshirt sophomore who started in five games last season, is now listed as the back-up for this weekend’s game. Coach Haynes said that three quarterbacks will likely see the field against the Nittany Lions this Saturday, with true freshman Justin Agner as the starter. Agner, Bollas, and freshman Mylik Mitchell will make up this three-pronged system behind center. Agner is a pro-style quarterback, a big difference from Mitchell and Bollas both of which are taller, dual-threat quarterbacks. He’s expected to make more plays with his arm and be a game manager.
And it isn’t like Kent State doesn’t have the weapons. Kent State returns 94% of their offensive production, and 89% of their overall team production from 2015 (fourth most returning experience in FBS). Along with Reardon, the Golden Flashes utilize versatile running backs and short passing routes. They return their top 8 pass catchers from last season. The Golden Flashes did announce earlier this month that sophomore receiver Antwan Dixon was out for the year due to complications with a blood disorder. However, the offense is still led by fifth-year senior wideout Ernest Calhoun, who has 4 career touchdown receptions, and running back Raekwon James, who led the team in receptions with 28 and was third on the team in rushing last year. These weapons, along with the return of all five starting offensive linemen, should help the offense take huge steps forward from 2015’s abysmal performance.
The Golden Flashes’ 2016 defense is inheriting a much better situation. The unit returns eight starters from a team that ranked among the non-Power 5 conference’s best defenses last season, despite being on the field a lot because of their lackluster offense. They return the entire secondary in their 4-2-5 scheme, in addition to a few notable players in the trenches coming back.
The unit is led by two-time First Team All-MAC safety and All-MAC Academic Nate Holley, a senior has already been named to the Butkus Award and Jim Thorpe Award watch lists. Holley led the team with 141 total tackles last season, and has 27 career starts.
Outside of the obvious team leader Holley, defensive end Terence Waugh and cornerback Demetrius Monday are stout defenders. Both were First Team All-MAC in 2015, Waugh had nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss in just 10 games, while Monday ranked fifth in the country with six interceptions. Monday matched up across from Chris Godwin or DaeSean Hamilton should be an outstanding matchup all afternoon. Waugh is going up against Penn State blocking that has struggled mightily over the last two seasons, and he might be able to wreak some havoc in the Nittany Lion backfield.
Mitch Stewart is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org