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Iowa Football: Five Questions on the Kent State Golden Flashes

Can the Hawkeyes stay hot and avoid an early-season stumble against a talented MAC opponent?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 28 Kent State at Buffalo
Can Iowa’s stifling defense slow down a potent Kent State offense?
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Iowa Hawkeyes enter week three with an opponent ranked outside the top-25 for the first time in 2021 as they play host to the Kent State Golden Flashes of the MAC. This is just the third meeting between the Hawkeyes and the Golden Flashes with Iowa coming away with wins in each of the first two meetings.

Given the limited history, we’re looking to learn more about what Hawkeye fans should expect from Kent State this weekend. So we turned to Steve Helwick of Hustle Belt, SB Nation’s blog covering the MAC.

Here are our five questions on the Kent State Golden Flashes.

BHGP: Iowa fans may not be terribly familiar with Kent State given the two programs have only met twice before. What should Hawkeye fans know about the school, the program and the approach to this week’s game?

HB: Kent State has plenty of notable football alumni including Nick Saban, Julian Edelman, Jack Lambert, James Harrison, and Joshua Cribbs. But with all that star power, Kent State was a perennial loser. And after many coaches turned down the opportunity in December 2017, Sean Lewis took over the program reins and everything changed. Kent State’s offense went from second-to-last in scoring to first from 2017 to 2020. Lewis brought the program its first-ever bowl win in a shootout over Utah State in the 2019 Frisco Bowl and the entire tide of the program has turned since that fateful December night. Now, Kent State enters this matchup against Iowa having won eight of its last 10 matchups while pegged as preseason MAC East favorites.

As suggested by their 49.8 points per game in 2020, Kent State prefers to dominate the offensive side of the ball. They’re coming off their fourth 60-point performance since 2019 and the rushing attack exploded for 494 yards and seven touchdowns last Saturday. This Iowa defense will be difficult to break through, but Kent State hopes its experience from Texas A&M will serve as a guide to solving the nation’s elite defenses.

BHGP: The Golden Flashes have scheduled some big non-conference games this season. That included a trip to then #6 Texas A&M in week 1. What went right and what went wrong for Kent State in that one and how could that potentially translate to this week’s matchup?

HB: It may sound like a cliché, but the game was a lot closer than the box score indicated against Texas A&M. In a surprising twist of events, Kent State’s defense was the unit which emerged to keep things close with the Aggies for a half. The Flashes only trailed 10-3 entering the third quarter and had they capitalized on their slew of offensive opportunities, they might have entered the break with a lead. Kent State picked off four passes that game and cornerback Elvis Hines excelled in reading the quarterback’s eyes to predict his assignment’s routes. As a result of ballhawking skills, this defense is currently leading the country in interceptions per game with four — the only team to rank above Iowa in the category. Kent State’s prowess in the secondary could translate well to Saturday considering Iowa has only completed 50 percent of its passes this season.

Also, Kent State was able to generate solid rushing production on the Aggies. The Flashes produced 226 rushing yards on 5.0 per attempt in College Station, and after stampeding an FCS opponent in Week 2, they rank second in the FBS in rushing offense — the same spot they finished in 2020. Kent State’s rushing attack is potent because it comes from a variety of sources. Marquez Cooper, Xavier Williams, and Bryan Bradford all share the backfield and present different skillsets, while quarterback Dustin Crum is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

Aspects of the game which did not play in Kent State’s favor involved protecting the quarterback and stifling the run. Crum faced extraordinary pressure all night, leading to an uncharacteristic 12/26 performance with two interceptions from the usually-accurate passer. The offensive line allowed four sacks and Texas A&M defenders consistently shed blocks to raid the backfield. When flipping the field to the defensive side, Kent State missed too many tackles when defending handoffs and quick screens. The Aggies frequently broke through from the first and second levels of defenders, and multiple Flashes were often required to take down ball carriers. Those errors must be corrected before facing Tyler Goodson and this physical Iowa offensive line.

BHGP: The Hawkeye defense is getting a lot of attention this week after coming up with three more interceptions in week two, taking the season total to seven turnovers forced. Iowa has also notably held 24 straight opponents to 24 or fewer points. But Kent State has some juice on offense and senior QB Dustin Crum has had a couple of really nice seasons coming into the year. How do you expect the Golden Flashes to attack this Iowa defense?

HB: Kent State is going to run its typical Flash Fast offense and hope to throw Iowa off with tempo. The Flashes sprint to the line of scrimmage when a play is completed, only to fire off a snap seconds later. It’s been an identity of the program since Lewis’ arrival in 2018.

Kent State favors inside zone handoffs and designed QB draws in the running game while opting for quick screens and slants through the air. The Flashes have been known to take the occasional deep shot, but that opportunity wasn’t available against Texas A&M. I expect Kent State tests the firepower of its second-ranked rushing attack early and often against this Iowa defense because airing it out against the dangerous cornerback tandem of Riley Moss and Matt Hankins hasn’t produced promising results for opponents.

BHGP: On the other side of the ball, Iowa’s offense has struggled to do much against a couple of quality defenses in the first two weeks. What type of scheme does Kent State run defensively and who are a few names Iowa fans should know?

HB: Kent State runs a 3-3-5 defense and the strength of that unit resides within the secondary. The Golden Flashes have picked off quarterbacks eight times in two games, and that number is spearheaded by the cornerbacks. Elvis Hines and Montre Miller are tied for second in the FBS with three interceptions apiece. While the corner pairing does a tremendous job denying receivers space and jumping routes, the safeties and linebackers are very active and alert with their hands, which has led to constant deflections. One safety to watch is sophomore Dean Clark, an emerging talent who is on pace to lead the team in tackles for the second consecutive year.

The run defense doesn’t present the same threat as the secondary. Kent State permitted two Aggie halfbacks to surpass the century mark, collectively allowing Texas A&M to manufacture 303 rushing yards in the opener. Last season, containing halfbacks was a constant struggle and three of Kent State’s four opponents featured a 160+ yard running back against the Flashes.

BHGP: OK, prediction time. This one opened up at Iowa -21.5 with an over/under around 56.5. That’s a pretty high mark for an Iowa game. Do you expect a high scoring affair? Can Kent State pull off the upset in Kinnick? What’s your final prediction for this week’s matchup?

HB: It’s never easy to predict a score when a juggernaut of an offense like Kent State faces a relentless defense like Iowa. But if there’s any indication on what an elite defense can do to the Golden Flashes, look no further than the Texas A&M game. Kent State’s offense crossed into opposing territory often, but the Aggies refused to yield significant gains, and most Kent State drives eventually subsided upon crossing the 50. I think Iowa’s defense will produce a similar result of allowing the Flashes to bend the unit but not break it. On the other hand, Iowa should establish the rushing game with relative ease and this sets up to be the Tyler Goodson performance that Hawkeyes fans have been waiting to see this season. The Hawkeyes’ best offensive opponent they’ve seen thus far will produce multiple touchdowns, but Iowa’s offense will also see its most productive day in a 34-14 victory.

So there you have it. Likely some interesting back and forth, but an Iowa win. Here’s hoping Steve knows what he’s talking about.

Be sure to follow Steve on the Twitter machine @s_helwick and check out his work over on Hustle Belt. They’ve got a preview of this week’s game already up for your viewing pleasure. You can follow Hustle Belt on Twitter @HustleBelt.