Few teams were affected more by the pandemic-shortened 2020 football schedule than Kent State. Originally scheduled to play Alabama, Kentucky, and Penn State, the MAC-only schedule (executed as late as any conference) left them with just four games, of which they won three.
They flashed some serious offense in two of their wins, scoring over 60 points against Bowling Green and Akron while their defense came up well short in a division-deciding matchup against Buffalo - they lost 70-41, a score I’m sure makes Kirk Ferentz quiver by simply thinking about. Overall, they averaged the most points/game in the country at 49.8 while yielding 38 (114th/128).
Sean Lewis, the head coach who led the Golden Flashes to the program’s first bowl victory following the 2019 season (pictured above) returns and has a 12-17 record at Kent State. Don’t be fooled, though, as many of the losses came in his first (2-10). This man plays video games with his players.
KSU schedule ahead of Iowa
9/4: @ Texas A&M
9/11: v VMI
I would suspect Kent State enters 9/18 1-1 with a win against VMI (a game that kicks off at 10:30 CT <3) and a loss against A&M. If they are able to win both contests, there’s no way Iowa underestimates them.
Dustin Crum (QB, 6’3”, 207 lbs, Grad): This guy can sling it.
Nothing necessarily sticks out in his highlights - decent arm strength, quick enough release, pretty good athleticism - but his accuracy (something that doesn’t stick out in highlights because everybody is accurate in them) is exceptional. In two years of starting (17 games), he’s completed 70.4% while tallying 32 TDs to 4 interceptions. He’s thrown for over 224 yards/game, including nearly 400 per last year en route to a first team All-MAC selection.
For good measure, he ran for 5.5 yards/carry on 44 attempts both as called runs and scrambles.
Ja’Shaun Poke (WR, 5’10”, 171 lbs, Jr): To put up numbers like Crum has the last two seasons, a bevy of capable wide receivers are required. Thankfully, big play threat Isaiah McKoy left early for the NFL draft (he was signed by the Steelers) and that leaves the smaller Poke as the most prolific returning receiver (326 yards, 14.5 YPC, 3 TDs) for Kent State.
The high school sprinter (won 400m dash in Georgia’s 5A class) looks like a version of Rondale Moore.
Against Bowling Green, he had two touchdowns where he got the ball early and showed off that sprinting speed. Iowa’s sure tackling will need to show up or else he can burn the Hawks.
Dean Clark (S, 6’0”, 211, Jr): On the defensive side of the ball, Clark’s ability sticks out. He led Kent State in tackles last season (28 total with exactly 7 in each of the four games) and nabbed an interception against Eastern Michigan.
He is a solid run defender but did show some shakiness as the top of Kent State’s defense. If they have significant improvement, their ability to keep offenses in front of him - driven by Clark’s skill - will be a big reason why.
They won’t bring a knife to a gun fight.
It’s a game Iowa should win, probably going away, but Kent State has the fortitude to make it a tricky one for Kirk Ferentz and company. Their 2020 offensive output is impressive, even in four games, and any time a team enters with the better quarterback (like Crum may be), they’ll have a chance.
The question will be if they can strike early to have the Hawks on their heels and maintain that mindset. Does it put Iowa in a position where they have to start slinging it or do they stick to a smashmouth gameplan which exposes the 3-4 defensive front of Kent State? Their roster has some guys who are certainly big enough along the line but if they tire easily, it could mean a field day for Tyler Goodson.
What is the state of the quarterback competition?
Kirk Ferentz is notorious for stopping quarterback competitions in August and has seen just two “backups” (Jake Christiansen in 2008, Brad Banks in 2001) take more than 50 snaps without injuries driving that need in the last 20 seasons. Even accounting for injuries, CJ Beathard (92 attempts in 2014) & Jason Manson/Christiansen (71 combined attempts in 2006) show just how unwilling Kirk is to test that second quarterback.
Yet what does it look like if Iowa enters the Kent State game 0-2 with a couple shaky Spencer Petras performances? Is the door opened for Alex Padilla or Deuce Hogan to get some run as a result? Does either backup get run anyways?
Perhaps it is unfair to remain a Spencer Petras skeptic without entertaining much optimism heading into 2021 but his need to perform feels like the most important of any Hawkeye quarterback of recent memory to shirk the inconsistency which served as the undercurrent to Iowa’s 6-2 2020.
How does Iowa’s secondary perform?
Another potentially silly question to ask, considering they’ll have faced two high quality starters in Michael Penix, Jr. & Brock Purdy prior to this but there is something fascinating about a quarterback with Crum’s statistics playing for a G5 outfit.
If the Hawks are able to keep all three quarterbacks in check, it bodes very well for Iowa’s fortunes and allows the defensive line to continue easing into its rotation.