Head coach Sean Lewis, the youngest head coach in the country (age 31), has supplied a much-needed jolt of energy to a Kent State program that's been beaten down for decades. But keeping the mood positive once the season opens will be difficult, especially with four road trips in the first five weeks, including games at Illinois, Penn State and Ole Miss.
Previewing Kent State Football's Offense for 2018
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To become competitive for the first time since the 11-win season of 2012, the Flashes must first generate some consistent offense. No team in the nation has scored fewer points over the last four years than Kent State. That's why Lewis was hired.
Lewis takes over a Golden Flashes offense that averaged 62.8 plays per game last season, which ranked 116th in the nation. With Lewis directing Syracuse as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, the Orange averaged a nation-leading 85.6 plays per contest in 2017. Lewis is implementing that same up-tempo philosophy at Kent State. But he still has to find players who can execute it.
Lewis' offense places a huge burden on its signal caller to snap the football in less than 15 seconds between plays. He brought in a highly touted transfer in Woody Barrett, a 6'2", 231-pound sophomore who was once in the mix to start at Auburn. Barrett, a freakish athlete with a big -- yet erratic - arm, is competing with sophomore dual threat Dustin Crum, who saw action in 10 games last season. Redshirt freshman Will Phillis is also in the mix.
One player who promises to see a major role in the offense is junior running back Justin Rankin, a solid all-around performer who led the team in rushing (490 yards) and receiving (42 catches) last season. Kent State brings back its top four receivers but needs to develop a consistent threat at the position. Junior Trey Harrell seems most likely to emerge in 2018.
Only two key contributors return on an offensive line that's been shaky for the past five seasons.
Previewing Kent State Football's Defense for 2018
Kent State will also look to ramp things up on defense this season after giving up 35.1 points and 408.3 yards per game in 2017, and it has more proven performers to pull it off on this side of the ball.
A solid linebacking corps is anchored by senior Jim Jones, who earned first-team All-MAC honors last season after leading the team in tackles (98) and sacks (six). Senior Matt Bahr was also poised for a big year last fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season, but he was healthy and making plays all over the field during spring drills.
Elvis Hines had a solid freshman season and is expected to develop into one of the better corners in the conference, and junior cornerback Jamal Parker broke up 11 passes in 2017.
Kent State will be relatively young in the trenches but should receive a boost from the return of senior tackle Kalil Morris from academic ineligibility and junior end Nick Faulkner from injury.
Previewing Kent State Football's Specialists for 2018
The Flashes feature one of the top punters in the nation in junior Derek Adams, who earned second-team All-MAC honors after averaging 43.6 yards per punt in 2017.
If nothing else, the team will be much more fun to watch in 2018, with Lewis calling the shots in a fast-paced attack. His system will breed a star or two per usual, and if one of them is a quarterback, the Flashes could pull off a few surprises in 2018 -- and set the stage for much bigger and better things in the years to come.