The Kent State football team was forced to swallow a bitter dose of reality Saturday.

Turnovers, penalties and a consistent series of chunk plays surrendered by the defense led to a 52-24 setback at Ball State in the Golden Flashes' Mid-American Conference opener.

The Flashes (1-4) generated optimism by playing three Power Five foes reasonably tough during the nonconference season. But the Cardinals (2-3), who finished 2-10 last year, showed a Flashes squad that sported the same record in 2017 just how far it has to go to earn respectability in the MAC.

“We need to go home, evaluate the tape and see where we can grow,” first-year KSU coach Sean Lewis said. “There are a lot of opportunities to do that from this game.”

Ball State sprinted to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and maintained a double-digit cushion the rest of the way.

Cardinals senior quarterback Riley Neal completed 30-of-50 passes for 402 yards and threw four touchdown passes with just one interception. His favorite target, junior Riley Miller, caught 11 passes for 208 yards and a score.

Neal added 61 yards rushing for the Cardinals, who rolled up 606 yards of total offense on Kent State.

The Flashes were able to move the ball at times, totaling 461 yards. Sophomore quarterback Woody Barrett was effective, completing 30-of-44 tosses for 310 yards and a touchdown with one interception.

But 17 penalties for 142 yards, five sacks and three turnovers kept Kent State from ever seriously challenging after it quickly fell behind Ball State by three scores.

“We needed to do our job better and we needed to execute better,” Lewis said. “There were too many self-inflicted wounds — the slow start offensively, the turnovers, the penalties. We needed to do a better job of closing the space on the edge and tackling. It comes down to basic fundamentals and executing our jobs to the best of our abilities. That falls on us as coaches to do a better job of putting them in position to succeed and maximize our personnel.”

Neal set the tone by hitting Miller for 52 yards on the game's first play from scrimmage, setting up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Malik Dunner on fourth-and-goal that put the Cardinals on top 7-0 less than two minutes into the contest.

Freshman Isaiah McKoy caught 10 passes for 68 yards for Kent State, which will play its homecoming game against Ohio (2-2, 0-0) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.