LEXINGTON, Ky.: The focus on rebuilding the Kent State football program has always centered on improving the team’s offense.
The Golden Flashes’ defense has been strong for so long — regardless of the top-notch players it loses to graduation every season — it’s an afterthought when it comes to being on anyone’s list of concerns.
That is until Saturday night, when host Kentucky’s no-huddle offense shredded the Flashes’ defense for 539 yards (354 yards coming in the Wildcats’ passing game) cruising to a 47-14 blowout.
“We gave up way too many big plays and let the game get away from us,” second-year KSU coach Darrell Hazell said. “We have to get a lot better.”
Granted, Kentucky is a member of college football’s elite Southeastern Conference. And the Flashes have never beaten a team from that prestigious league.
However, there’s no doubt KSU would have fared a whole lot better against the Wildcats had its top unit played to the level it usually does.
Instead, with KSU having little time to substitute players in and out and even line up between plays, Kentucky became the first team to get more than 500 yards of offense against the Flashes since Bowling Green during the 2009 season.
“The fast tempo, you try to drill it in practice,” said Flashes defensive end Jake Dooley, who had two tackles for loss and a quarterback sack.
“But you can’t do it at the speed they do it. Still, we’re disappointed. That wasn’t Kent State defense.”
The Flashes scored first on junior Dri Archer’s career-best 47-yard touchdown sprint in the first quarter. That gave the visitors the early lead. But KSU’s defense allowed the Wildcats to roar back with 17 unanswered points to close out the first half with a 17-7 lead.
When sophomore running back Trayion Durham ran a career-best 26 yards for a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter, it pulled the Flashes (1-1) to within 17-14.
But the game quickly got out of hand when KSU’s defense couldn’t keep the gap close. Kentucky went on to amass 30 unanswered points in the second half.
The Wildcats’ momentum was aided by kicker Freddy Cortez missing two field-goal attempts and two KSU fourth-quarter red-zone drives stalling inside the Kentucky 5-yard line.
What worried Hazell the most after the game was future opponents playing copycat with a no-huddle offense now that the Flashes’ usually solid defense has shown a major weakness.
“Teams are gonna watch that film and want to fast-tempo us,” said Hazell, whose Flashes have the perfect opportunity to work on fixing the problem with the aid of a bye week before playing at Buffalo on Sept 19.
The Flashes’ defense did have one memorable stand late in the third quarter, when it stuffed the Wildcats on three consecutive goal-line tries at the 1-yard line.
However, even that backfired when KSU’s offense took over on downs just on the edge of the end zone, and Archer tripped over quarterback Spencer Keith’s foot in the end zone for a safety.
• Hazell said senior receiver Tyshon Goode, who sat out the second consecutive game with a hamstring injury, was “about 75 percent the other day.”
With the added time off next week, he’s hoping Goode will be able to play at Buffalo.
Without Goode’s services, freshman receiver Josh Boyle was able to grab a career-high six receptions for 64 yards, including a 34-yard catch.
• Hazell said sophomore running back Trayion Durham, who carried the ball 16 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, was nursing a shoulder injury suffered in the first-week win over visiting Towson.
“He sprained it in the third quarter of last week’s game,” Hazell said.
Despite the overall sluggish defensive effort, junior safety Luke Wollet had career-high marks in total tackles (13) and solo tackles (seven).
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 http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.