KENT: Again playing without offensive leader Dri Archer, Kent State was unable to keep up with Bowling Green in a 41-22 loss Saturday at Dix Stadium in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams.
The Flashes (1-1, 0-1 MAC) led 22-17 late in the first half but the Falcons (2-0, 1-0) dominated the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points to pull away.
“We started the first half very well,” KSU coach Paul Haynes said. “But there were things we talked about that we couldn’t do on the defensive side — giving up big plays, making mental mistakes, we had too many of those.”
The most glaring defensive miscue for the Flashes came late in the third quarter and proved to be the ultimate backbreaker. KSU reserve cornerback Malcolm Pannell missed a tackle of Ryan Burbrink on a third-and-15 play and the Falcons’ wide receiver turned it into a 92-yard touchdown.
The touchdown came after the Flashes had sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Johnson for a 5-yard loss on first down and then forced an incomplete pass on second down.
Instead of punting from deep in their own territory, the Falcons extended their lead to 34-22.
“It was a three-deep scheme and they split the zone,” Haynes said. “We have to play a lot better. That can be covered, we just didn’t [cover it].”
Before the second-half collapse, Kent State managed to keep pace for nearly two quarters without Archer, who was not in uniform after spraining his left ankle in the team’s opener Aug. 29.
With just under five minutes to go in the second quarter, the Flashes took a 22-17 on a 2-yard touchdown run by fullback Trayion Durham.
It was all downhill from there for the Flashes.
Durham gained just 29 yards on 11 carries and redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon’s fast start to his second collegiate game fizzled.
Following Durham’s touchdown, Bowling Green outgained KSU 341 yards to 59, beginning with a forgettable third quarter in which the Flashes had just one first down and three punts.
Overall, the Falcons racked up 576 total yards to 302 for the Flashes.
After completing six of his first eight passes in the first quarter, Reardon finished the game 15-of-28 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. His longest pass play was a 42-yard touchdown to receiver Chris Humphrey. Humphrey’s 2-point conversion run gave KSU an 8-7 lead.
The Falcons made adjustments on defense at halftime but Reardon wasn’t willing to give the opposition much credit.
“We saw everything in the second half from them that we did in the first half,” said Reardon, who added 58 rushing yards on 12 carries. “We just weren’t executing.”
Kent State’s offense isn’t the only unit that has struggled. During last year’s record-setting season, the defense forced 38 turnovers but does not have a takeaway in the first two games this season.
Haynes and team captain Roosevelt Nix agreed the problem simply comes down to fundamentals.
“[Turnovers were] a key for us [last year],” Haynes said. “We just aren’t getting them. Some years you don’t. It comes down to fundamentals to get the ball.”
Nix, a senior defensive end, made his presence felt with two sacks of Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson (19-of-25 for 357 yards and two touchdowns) that made him KSU’s all-time leader in tackles for loss with 56.
“It simply wasn’t fundamental football,” an obviously frustrated Nix said. “We were there [to make the plays]. You just can’t let good backs and a good offense get extra shots. On the first hit, you have to get them down.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.