Kent State bounced back from a 33-point loss two weeks ago when it took down Ohio in Athens, and they kept the momentum going last week with a five-point home win over Northern Illinois in what may have been a MAC title game preview. Now the Golden Flashes (5-4, 4-1 MAC) look to make it three wins in a row when they head north to Mount Pleasant and visit Central Michigan. The Chippewas (5-4, 3-2) have won three of their last four, including last week's 42-30 victory at Western Michigan. Both teams need just one more victory to become bowl eligible.
CMU is 3-1 at home — including a 45-0 shutout and a pair of one-score wins — with its only loss coming to the MAC West-leading Huskies by a single point on Oct. 23. Meanwhile, Kent State is 1-4 on the road, dropping the first four such games by an average of 27 points before downing the Bobcats in Athens, 34-27.
These teams have split the last five meetings but they don't play each other since they are in different divisions. So this span stretches back to 2007 and includes four games in Kent, Ohio. Central Michigan won the most recent matchup, 42-23 on the road in 2017 with Kent State winning the last time these teams played in Mount Pleasant, 27-24, back in 2016.
Kent State at Central Michigan
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Central Michigan -2.5
When Kent State Has the Ball
Perhaps the most impressive element of Kent State's high-flying offense isn't the yards or the points that the Golden Flashes continue to put up, but rather their ball control. Kent State has turned it over just five times this season, tied with Coastal Carolina for the lowest total of any FBS team. And the Golden Flashes have just one giveaway since the start of October, as Dustin Crum hasn't thrown an interception since he threw a pair in a Week 1 loss at Texas A&M and the team lost just one fumble apiece against Iowa, Maryland, and Western Michigan.
Thanks to their fifth turnover-free game of 2021, the Golden Flashes were flying all over the field in last week's win over the Huskies. Kent State posted 682 total yards in the win, finishing with the seventh-highest yardage total of any team in the FBS this season and tops among MAC teams. And it was quite the balanced effort as Kent State threw for 322 yards and a pair of scores while rushing for 360 yards and five more touchdowns.
Duplicating that effort — or even coming close to it — will be a challenge since the Chippewas have allowed just 21.4 points per game in their five wins this season, although they've given up nearly double that (37.5) in their four losses. They've thrived on stopping opponents on third down, allowing just shy of one conversion for every three third downs (32.1 percent) faced. And good things have happened when Central Michigan forces punts because Kalil Pimpleton is a threat every time he touches the ball. He's managed an FBS-best than 20 yards per punt return this season, scoring twice against Western Michigan on returns of 70 and 97 yards.
When Central Michigan Has the Ball
When it's not Pimpleton breaking off big plays in the return game, the Chippewas — like the Golden Flashes — have relied in large part on the run game, driven by the play of third-year redshirt freshman Lew Nichols III. Nichols has rushed for at least 130 yards in each of those four to push his rushing total over the millennium mark to a MAC-leading 1,082 yards — the fifth-highest total in the FBS — through nine games. Nichols followed up a season-high 192 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries against Northern Illinois, with 163 yards and two more touchdowns last week in the win over Western Michigan.
Nichols is the only one of the top five rushing leaders nationally with fewer than 10 rushing scores this season, but his quarterback has more than made up the difference. Daniel Richardson paces the MAC with 15 passing touchdowns, even with just one against the Broncos last week. His eyes have been consistently focused on downfield targets as he averages nearly 15 yards per completion in 2021, with Dallas Dixon (16.46) and Pimpleton (16.07) among the MAC's leaders in yards per catch after Pimpleton caught five passes for 115 yards and a touchdown against Western Michigan while Dixon's lone reception against the Broncos went for 44 yards.
Central Michigan's big-play tendencies will be tough for Kent State to control, especially since they've yielded 4953 yards per game, the worst in the MAC by nearly 50 yards (Northern Illinois: 449 ypg allowed) and second worst nationally. The Golden Flashes have had quite a difficult time keeping opposing offenses behind the chains, tallying fewer than 1.5 sacks and five TFLs per game in 2021. Where they've thrived, however, is in opportunistically forcing turnovers, picking off a MAC-best 13 passes (T-fourth in the FBS) en route to a conference-high 20 total takeaways.
Both the Golden Flashes and the Chippewas have thrived on making big plays and limiting mistakes, and recent positive stretches for both will mean a sizable chunk of momentum into Wednesday's meeting, the first between these two teams since 2017. This will be Kent State's second and final edition of midweek MACtion for the 2021 season, while Central Michigan will have one more against Ball State before hosting Eastern Michigan for an in-state showdown on Black Friday to close the regular season.
Prediction: Central Michigan 37, Kent State 32
Podcast: Week 10 Recap, Reaction to Coaching Changes, and a Preview of CFB Playoff Rankings
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.