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Opponent Offense Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes

Washington’s defense will be tested early with the Flash Fast offense.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Fifth year head coach Sean Lewis has done an incredible job at Kent State, taking over one of the worst programs in the country and turning them into an up tempo, high scoring offense among the nation’s best. His first season was 2018 and by 2020 he had them leading the nation in points per game with nearly 50. They are the defending MAC East Division champions and were voted to repeat this year in the MAC coaches poll.

Last year’s team was powered by a ton of experience, especially at the offensive line and with QB Dustin Crum. Crum has meant everything to Kent State, amassing huge career statistics which won’t easily be replaced. On the other hand, they return their best receiver, and a trio of talented running backs - but that’s about it. With all they have to replace, it’s time to see just how well Lewis’ system works.

Here is their recent depth chart:

The Scheme

Going no huddle and up tempo almost all the time, Sean Lewis employs the aptly named “Flash Fast” offense at Kent State. In 2021, they ran an average of 77 plays per game, 13th in the nation (just 3 plays fewer per game than #1). They run a variation of the offense Josh Heupel runs at Tennessee, which is itself an adaption of Art Briles’ old Baylor offense. It is essentially about giving the quarterback simple zone read run plays and binary decision making in the pass game (e.g. can my receiver win a go route down the sideline?) Kent State mixes it up with power run elements, like pulling guards, to complement heavy RPO usage.

While this team is run first (top-30 in rushing play percentage in 2021), the way they attack defenses through the air is simple. When defenses show a single-high safety, they can take vertical shots down the sideline. And when teams show a two-high safety against them, the slot receivers have extra space. That said, they don’t pass over the middle very much, the idea being to take most of the defense out of the play and stress them vertically. Running a power zone read scheme with an athletic quarterback and vertical shots downfield are the pillars this offense is built upon.

The QB reads the defender on the edge and decides to keep the ball, or hand it to the running back.

The Players

The spotlight is on QB Collin Schlee and how he keeps the Golden Flashes offense humming. He’s been good in limited opportunities (10 games, 17-of-24 for 238 yards, 9.9 YPA, 1 TD, 0 Ints, 20 carries for 127 yards, 3 TDs) with an 83 PFF grade on offense. He’s bigger and more athletic than Crum standing at a solid 6-3 and 218 pounds. He’s very much a duel threat who loves to run but also boasts an exceptionally strong arm. However, he still needs to demonstrate that he can deliver consistently with accuracy while standing tall in the pocket. The coaches love his athleticism and tools, but he also needs to prove that he can make the right reads in the run game like his predecessor.

Getty Images

Easing Schlee’s transition will be the talented running back trio of Marquez Cooper, Xavier Williams, and Bryan Brandford. Cooper is the headliner (241 carries for 1,205 yards, 11 TDs) and is a well rounded back with good vision and quickness. Williams (125 carries for 812 yards, 3 TDs) is also of the shiftier variety, while the senior Bryan Bradford (49 carries for 298 yards, 3 TDs) is a physical, 250 pound bruiser. This is a key position unit that powers one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the nation.

At wide receiver Dante Cephas (82 receptions, 1,240 yards, 9 TDs) returns, and is the perfect deep threat for this offense. At 6-1 and 186 lb, he gets vertical quickly and is the big play threat that compliments this run game. They lose their other top two receivers from last year but the hope is the senior Ja’Shaun Poke (26 receptions, 315 yards, 1 TD) will be a second option.

On the offensive line, Kent State returns just two starters, C Sam Allan and LG Jack Bailey. While the coaches have faith in Schlee and the running backs to keep things humming, the offensive line has to come together first. In 2021 this offense generated explosive plays more than 16% of the time, which was top-5 nationally. Too many sacks and negative plays led them to average 47th in the country in plays per touchdown, a lower mark than one would expect considering their yardage output. The new look offensive line will have to come together to improve those numbers.

The End

This match up should be a strong introductory test of how well the defensive coaches have implemented their system. While Kent State could generate some mismatches, Washington will have a large talent advantage defensively. But scheme and coaching can close talent gaps and Washington’s defense will need to play with great eye discipline to slow a tricky RPO heavy attack. Similar to coming up against a triple option team, an ill-prepared defense won’t be able to get off the field.

Kent State’s clear advantage is in the run game, where Washington has been weak recently. Much has been made of UW’s new approach at safety - rolling them up closer to the line of scrimmage - which may keep the Golden Flash’s rushing attack in check, but expose Washington to explosive pass plays up the sideline. Washington will need to adapt quickly to new coaching and schemes so that hopefully, this game won’t even be close.


How many points will Kent State score on Saturday?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    (13 votes)
  • 22%
    (80 votes)
  • 46%
    (167 votes)
  • 20%
    (74 votes)
  • 5%
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    36 or more
    (3 votes)
358 votes total Vote Now