Brady Vernon: Outside of Woody Barrett, who are other offensive playmakers on the team?
Steve Helwick: Running back Jo-El Shaw showed a lot of promise last year in limited action. Despite four starts, he finished eighth in the MAC with 657 rushing yards and managed nine total touchdowns. At 6’1” and 230, he’s one of the bigger running backs in the country but his speed remains impressive. The Flashes rotate him in for kickoff returns and also utilize him as a recurring target in passing game. Kent State returns its entire receiving trio from last season of Mike Carrigan, Antwan Dixon, and Isaiah McKoy, who combined for 1,552 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. All viable weapons with a year of starting experience under their belt, Kent State should show major offensive strides in Sean Lewis’ second season.
BV: Do you believe Kent State will load the box in an attempt to stop Eno Benjamin and force true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels to beat them?
SH: Yes, there’s no collegiate film on Jayden Daniels, and Eno Benjamin shredded teams last year. For the second straight year, Kent State will use a 3-4 base defense, so expect plenty of linebackers to stay home and focus on the preseason All-American. Kent State’s 114th ranked rushing defense resembled Oregon State’s more similarly than San Diego State’s last season, so the Golden Flashes will probably sell out on the run until they see something out of Daniels. Also, N’Keal Harry is out of Tempe so Kent State’s secondary will have a slightly easier job without first round NFL talent on the other end.
BV: Last year, the Golden Flashes lost to Ole Miss 38-17 in Oxford, but it was tied at 7 once the game reached halftime. How were they able to keep it close for a half and is it replicable?
SH: Kent State’s defense really shined in the first half of non-conference games last season. The Flashes held a 17-3 lead over Illinois, trailed Penn State 28-10, and tied Ole Miss 7-7 at halftime on the road in 2018. Forcing four consecutive punts versus Ole Miss thanks to solid pass coverage and keeping Jordan Ta’amu in the box helped Kent State stay in the game longer than most would have imagined. The offense received its opportunities and Woody Barrett created enough production as a runner and passer to keep Kent State close. Kent State actually trailed by four in the fourth quarter when Barrett threw an interception around midfield, so if the team avoided that turnover, the fourth quarter would have been a lot more interesting. A performance like this can be replicable if the defense can force early stops and keep a team one-dimensional on offense, providing Barrett more opportunities in striking distance.
BV: Who on the defense should strike the most fear into the Sun Devil offense?
SH: I don’t think Arizona State should be fearful of one particular player, but inside linebacker Matt Bahr has done a solid job as Kent State’s Swiss army knife on defense. Bahr is a great run stopper and led the team with 91 tackles in 2018. He invaded the backfield for a team-best 7.5 tackles for loss and recorded three sacks. Bahr didn’t have much experience before last season but he proved to be solid in zone coverage as well. He’ll act as the quarterback of Kent State’s defense this season and will be used frequently as a pass rusher, a coverage man, and the man-to-man matchup with Eno Benjamin in the opener at Sun Devil Stadium.
BV: Score prediction and best guess at the type of play Kent State will score a touchdown on? (QB run, a pass to certain player, etc.)
SH: Kent State is definitely better than the 2-10 team it was a season ago, but this may not be the Golden Flashes’ finest hour. The game result should be similar to the Sun Devils’ opener against UTSA last season but a bit closer. Arizona State wins 41-17 behind a strong performance by Benjamin and the defense. Kent State will score two touchdowns — a 30-ish yard strike from Barrett to one of the members of the veteran wide receiver trio and a short, goal line run by Jo-El Shaw.