I like early-season Power-5 vs Group-of-5 pigskin as much as the next pundit, but I have to say the Thursday night pairing of Arizona State vs Kent State feels a little curious. It’s not that sort of geographically-obvious choice of a mid-major opponent like Alabama playing Troy or Florida playing Georgia Southern.
In fact, according to Winsipedia, ASU and Kent State have never met on the gridiron.
How does Las Vegas think it’s going to go? Badly for the visitors, mostly. The Golden Flashes of the MAC are a 25-point underdog for the season-opening scrum at Sun Devil Stadium.
Who: Kent State Golden Flashes at Arizona State Sun Devils
When: Thursday, August 29th, 10 PM EST
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Lines: Kent St. (+25) at ASU (-25) / O/U Total: (61)
Kent State was pitiful in 2018, finishing dead last in the East division of the Mid-American Conference and posting a 2-10 overall record. However, it’s unlikely that the squad was really as bad as the results made it seem.
Recent head coaching hire Sean Lewis has installed an offense full of screen passes and intricate running plays. It’s a good idea to try to do something different in the MAC, where 7 or 8 out of 12 schools run the same basic, generic NCAA playbook.
But Lewis is working with a journeyman QB of sorts in upperclassman Woody Barrett, who wasn’t efficient enough through the air to keep up with opponents’ rapid pace of scoring against the Golden Flashes. On defense, improvement could come slowly at the LB and DB positions, and new blood on the defensive line will be asked to step up from where the unit was last season, according to beat blogger Bill Connolly of SB Nation:
Four of last year’s top five linebackers return, as do three of the top four safeties and two of three cornerbacks. The Flashes didn’t have that many disruptive players, but most return, led by safety Keith Sherald Jr. (5.5 tackles for loss, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles) and linebacker Matt Bahr (7.5 TFLs, three passes defensed). Kent also boasts five three-star true and redshirt freshmen in the secondary; that should become a strength.
The line is undergoing a rebuild, and that might not be a bad thing. Last year’s top three ends are gone, but they only combined for seven tackles for loss. Tackle Kalil Morris (six TFLs) is gone, too, but Kaufman has to be hoping that two three-star JUCO ends — Sekou Diaby and Jabbar Price — and some youngsters can team with senior tackles Theo Majette and Dominic Hill to either make a few more plays up front, or at least do a better job of keeping blockers off of the linebackers. Probably can’t get worse, anyway.
How are the favored Sun Devils looking prior to the Thursday kickoff? Solid, and if you ask a lot of publicists…er, I mean, TV analysts about it, ASU could be ready for a breakthrough in a relatively-weak P5 conference.
Cliché-machine Herm Edwards enters his 2nd season in the collegiate ranks after debuting in Tempe with a 7-6 mark. He’s got the 5th-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12 in 2019. Manny Wilkins has departed and the resulting battle for starting QB has been waged mostly between redshirt junior Dillon Sterling-Cole and freshman Jayden Daniels.
Daniels appears to have gotten the nod for the Kent State game (at least) w/ Sterling-Cole falling to 3rd string:
Daniels becomes the first true freshman to start the season opener at quarterback for the Sun Devils. Another true freshman, Joey Yellen, will be Daniels’ backup.
Edwards was quick to point out Daniels has some veterans around him on offense so he won’t have to shoulder the load alone. “It’s one of those deals, you start a freshman quarterback and you try and anticipate what’s going to happen,” Edwards said. “He’s not the savior. He’s a freshman quarterback like all freshman are. He’s going to do a lot of good things and he’s going to make some errors. That’s part of it.”
Junior tailback Eno Benjamin will power the offense again, and senior WR Kyle Williams has over 100 catches in the last 2 seasons. There are also a few studs in the front-7, including burly LB Merlin Robertson and short-but-effective Darien Butler.
Edwards’ hype-vs-results ratio has always been too heavy in the 1st column and too light in the 2nd for my taste. I do not think the Sun Devils are headed for an exceptionally great season that beats expectations.
However, if there’s 1 thing NFL coaches know how to do, it’s beat down an inferior team. ASU will be well-prepared to play its maiden game of the season and has no intentions of blowing it all on the 1st try. Kent State will be put under pressure to execute a complex playbook against 4-star defensive talent, and would be better served trying to play a Pac-12 team in November as opposed to August.
Kent State will get better in 2019 but it won’t show on the scoreboard in Tempe. Take ASU to cover (-25).