Kent State has gone 3-9 each of the past two seasons, which is one of the reasons why head coach Paul Haynes enters a critical campaign. Despite the record, the Golden Flashes were competitive in most of their MAC games, losing three of them by less than a touchdown. The offense didn’t offer a ton of support in 2016 and needs more playmakers to emerge to take some of the load off of the quarterback. The defense kept Kent State in most games, but returns just five starters. A non-conference schedule that features games at Clemson, Louisville and Marshall in September isn’t going to allow the Flashes the opportunity to get off to a strong start, but hopefully will prepare them for their conference slate.
Previewing Kent State’s Offense for 2017
Nick Holley moved from the slot to quarterback in last year’s conference opener and breathed instant life into a struggling offense that finished dead last in the nation in points scored in 2015. The dual-threat signal caller threw for 868 yards and rushed for 873 in seven starts before suffering a knee injury in Week 11. He did not participate in spring drills but is expected to be at full strength for preseason practices.
Holley averaged 49 plays from scrimmage in his first six starts, which took a toll on his 5'10", 200-pound frame. The Flashes will look to ease the burden on him in 2017 by spreading the ball around. Tailback Justin Rankin rushed for 511 yards as a freshman despite battling through some injuries, and he also led the team in catches (28) and receiving yards (335). Sophomore Will Matthews, junior Myles Washington and redshirt freshman Keon Singleton provide excellent depth at running back.
Senior wide receiver Kris White is back after suffering a season-ending leg injury in last year’s opener, while Kent State is also expecting junior college transfer wideout Donte Ross to make an instant impact.
The Flashes have moved their top returning lineman, junior Stefano Millin, from center to left tackle as they look to become a more physical, run-oriented team with Holley at quarterback. Nathan Puthoff, the lone senior on the starting unit, will take over at center, while 300-pound former standout wrestler Adam Gregoire will slide into the right tackle slot as a sophomore.
Previewing Kent State Football’s Defense for 2017
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Kent State’s defense wasn’t dominant last year, but it consistently kept the team in games against MAC competition. Six of the top seven tacklers from last season have moved on, but eight players who started the final game of 2016 return.
The unit was especially adept against the pass, allowing under 200 yards per game through the air, and has a pair of former All-MAC cornerbacks returning in seniors Jerrell Foster and Demetrius Monday. The Flashes have to replace one of the top safeties in the conference the past three years in Nate Holley — the twin brother of the QB — but junior Juantez McRae has shown playmaking ability. McRae is the team’s top returning tackler (59).
The front seven features senior strongman Jon Cunningham, a 300-pound All-MAC tackle who bench presses 450 pounds and squats 700. Senior Marques Moore will slide into the rush end position in place of Terence Waugh, who posted 15 tackles for a loss and eight sacks as a senior. Junior Jim Jones and senior James Alexander gained valuable experience at linebacker in the past but will be expected to ratchet up their production considerably in 2017.
Previewing Kent State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Shane Hynes returns for his junior season after hitting 15-of-22 field goals last fall. Derek Adams punted well as a true freshman, averaging 40.3 yards per attempt, but will look to hit the ball consistently longer as a sophomore.
Paul Haynes is in the final year of his five-year contract and has yet to win more than four games in a season. Last year’s squad was much more consistently competitive in MAC play but still finished just 3–9 after losing three conference games by four points. With Holley at quarterback for a full season and more help in place at the skill positions, the Flashes will finally enter a season sporting an offense that strikes some semblance of fear into opposing defenses. Haynes’ teams have always been solid defensively, so offensive production remains the key to overall success. Kent State must also survive a brutal non-conference schedule that features road trips to Clemson, Louisville and Marshall.
National Ranking: 127
MAC East Prediction: 6
(Nick Holley photo courtesy of Kent State University Athletic Communications)