MACtion is back on Tuesday night, as Kent State takes on Bowling Green in a matchup of two teams looking to close out the 2018 season on a high note. The Golden Flashes and Falcons both enter Tuesday’s game at 1-7 and have yet to win a contest in MAC play.
The slow start cost Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks his job, as he was dismissed after a 42-35 loss to Western Michigan on Oct. 13. That defeat dropped the Falcons to 1-6 overall and just 7-24 overall under Jinks. Defensive coordinator (and former FAU coach) Carl Pelini was promoted to interim coach and led the team in a 49-14 loss to Ohio on Oct. 20. Bowling Green’s only win in 2017 came against FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky, and three out of the four MAC losses came by 15 points or more. While Jinks recruited well, both sides of the ball remained a question mark throughout his tenure. The defense ranked near the bottom of the MAC, and despite Jinks’ background on offense, the Falcons finished eighth in the conference in scoring in 2017 and ninth in ’16. While Bowling Green has clinched its third consecutive losing season, this is one of the MAC’s top jobs and won’t have trouble finding interested candidates. After all, this is a program that had Urban Meyer and Dino Babers patrolling its sidelines as head coach at one point.
While Bowling Green is looking to find the next leader for its program, Kent State has to be optimistic it found a coach who can elevate this team within the MAC. After the dismissal of Paul Haynes, the Golden Flashes handed the keys to the program to Sean Lewis. The 32-year-old coach had previous MAC experience from a stint at Bowling Green (2014-15). The former Wisconsin tight end comes from the Babers coaching tree and has made a noticeable impact this fall. Kent State gave Illinois all it could handle (31-24) in the opener, lost 38-17 at Ole Miss and has suffered two MAC defeats by one point.
Bowling Green holds a 60-19-6 series edge over Kent State. The Falcons have won five in a row in this series.
Kent State at Bowling Green
Kickoff: Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Kent State -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Kent State QB Woody Barrett
New coach Sean Lewis has a big rebuilding project ahead at Kent State but landing Barrett was a huge pickup in his first recruiting class. The former Auburn signal-caller came to Kent after a year at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College and edged Dustin Crum for the starting job in preseason practice. Barrett has been a difference-maker for Lewis, completing 173 of 286 passes for 1,748 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s also added 378 yards and five scores on the ground.
With his ability to hurt defenses with his legs or through the air, Barrett is the type of quarterback that can carry an offense to a victory. And the sophomore should have plenty of opportunities on Tuesday night, as Bowling Green’s defense ranks last in the MAC by giving up 47.8 points a game. Additionally, the Falcons are last in the conference versus the run and pass efficiency defense, give up 7.2 yards per play and have surrendered 11 plays of 40 yards or more.
When Barrett throws, freshman Isaiah McKoy (36 catches) has been his favorite target, but Antwan Dixon (32), Myles Carrigan (31) and Trey Harrell (22) will also factor into the mix. Running back Justin Rankin has caught 14 passes but should do most of his damage on the ground. The junior has 560 yards through eight games and faces a Falcons defense giving up 6.6 yards per carry.
Barrett has been one of the MAC’s top newcomers in 2018, and Pelini’s defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the dynamic sophomore. Can Bowling Green find a way to slow down the FlashFast attack from Kent State?
2. Bowling Green’s Offense
Make no mistake: Tuesday night is going to be tough for the two defenses in this game. Just like Bowling Green’s group will have its hands full trying to slow down Kent State, the Golden Flashes are going to give up their share of yards and points to the Falcons’ offense.
Kent State’s defense is allowing 6.5 yards per play, 35 points a game, ranks eighth in the MAC against the run and 11th in pass efficiency defense. Additionally, this unit has allowed 16 plays of 40 or more yards.
Bowling Green quarterback Jarret Doege is in the midst of a breakout season. The sophomore is completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,078 yards and 20 touchdowns to just eight picks. Doege leads all MAC quarterbacks by averaging 279.8 passing yards in conference-only matchups this season. Senior Scott Miller (48 catches for 785 yards and seven scores) is one of the league’s top receivers, while Quintin Morris and RB Marlow III round out the secondary options. Running back Andrew Clair (495 yards) was also poised for a breakout 2018 campaign, but the sophomore has been limited to just 23 carries over his last four games due to the flow of the game and injury. The extended bye week allowed Clair time to get healthy, but as of Monday, his status was uncertain for the matchup against Kent State.
The Falcons should lean heavily on Doege and Clair (if healthy) on Tuesday night, and assuming that’s the case, can Kent State find a way to slow them down?
3. Turnovers and Timely Stops
Points and yards for both offenses should be aplenty on Tuesday night. Whichever defense can find a way to get timely stops or generate a couple of takeaways is likely to lead their team to a win.
Kent State’s defense has forced 15 takeaways to 10 for Bowling Green this season. The Golden Flashes are first in the MAC in red zone defense, while the Falcons rank 10th. Both teams have struggled to get stops on third down, but Kent State ranks slightly better (10th in the conference to 12th for Bowling Green). And when it comes to generating pressure, Kent State has recorded 18 sacks to just six from the Falcons.
Which side will create enough havoc plays or get stops inside of the 20 to force a field goal attempt instead of a touchdown?
Expect a high-scoring game with plenty of highlights from the two offenses. Kent State and Bowling Green have both had their share of issues on defense this season, but both offenses are capable of recording yards and touchdowns in a hurry. In a big-picture view of Tuesday night’s game, it certainly seems the Golden Flashes are trending up under Lewis and have a clear identity on what they want to be. On the other sideline, the Falcons have an interim coach and have struggled to be competitive in 2018. Kent State has lost three of its game by seven points or less, including two of its last three matchups in MAC play. Lewis’ team seems due for a few bounces in their direction. The Golden Flashes get a huge effort from Barrett, and this defense makes just enough stops in the fourth quarter to earn their first conference win of 2018.