Logan • The Utah State Aggies had about one extra week to prepare for their Frisco Bowl opponent, the Kent State Golden Flashes, and the scout on them is simple: They have a flashy run game.
“They do a lot of different run plays — more than I’ve seen really any football team do,” Aggies defense coordinator Justin Ena said. “It’s a little bit different from what I’m used to.”
The Golden Flashes average 181 rushing yards per game and have scored 14 touchdowns on those types of plays. Both statistics are far less than their passing prowess — 212.6 yards per game and 32 touchdowns — but Utah State seems to be keying in on what Kent State will be doing on the ground rather than in the air.
The Aggies will have to stop a run that game features five running backs each averaging more than 30 rushing yards per game. Junior quarterback Dustin Crum has amassed the most yards in that department, entering Friday with 560 and five touchdowns.
Crum is someone Aggies coach Gary Andersen has his eye on, especially when the quarterback isn’t throwing the ball.
“He’s a very capable quarterback and they run him,” Andersen said of Crum, who has thrown for 18 touchdowns and averages 194.7 passing yards per game. "They run him a lot. It’s a big part of who they are and what they want to do, and it’s a deceptive run game and it’s a good run game.”
Kent State coach Sean Lewis has personnel concerns of his own when it comes to the Aggies. He knows USU junior quarterback Jordan Love will be a handful. But when he looks at Utah State’s roster up and down the field, he sees a host of obstacles for his team.
“There have been some sleepless nights thinking about all the guys that are running around out there in their blue and white,” Lewis told the Record-Courier. “We’ve got to bring our best.”
The Golden Flashes are on a hot streak heading into the Frisco Bowl. They won their final three games of the season just to become bowl-eligible and did it in contests decided by eight points or less. Kent State had lost three straight prior to that.
Lewis said the team learned “great lessons” from losing those three games.
“When our back was against the wall it really showed the character of our kids, the resiliency and the growth of our program,” Lewis said. “It’s given us confidence, given us belief, and we will carry that into what I imagine is going to be another really close ballgame [against Utah State].”
But there are some players on Utah State’s roster that aren’t so worried about Kent State’s streak, run game, defense or anything else regarding the Golden Flashes.
“They’re not world beaters or anything,” graduate transfer tight end Caleb Repp said. "They don’t really look too athletic. They have athletes, but I think we just have more athletes on the offensive side of the ball compared to them.”
One of those athletes includes junior quarterback Jordan Love, who recently declared for the NFL draft and will play his final game with the Aggies on Friday. Love, senior running back Gerold Bright and junior wide receiver Sean Carter were cited for marijuana possession over the weekend. On Thursday, Andersen said there “was never any thought that [Love] wouldn’t play,” and a USU spokesperson said all three were eligible to play.
For the Aggies, beating the Golden Flashes would represent ending 2019 on a high note after missing their goal of winning a Mountain West Conference championship. Andersen, assessing his first season back at Utah State, said he would have liked to win a title.
But for Kent State, beating the Aggies would put a bow on a season that was over by all accounts until its streak made it eligible for its first bowl game since 2012.
The Aggies are well aware of what the Golden Flashes are fighting for and anticipate a hard-fought game.
“It’s not going to be a cake walk,” Bright said. “They’re on a Cinderella story.”
Ena said Utah State’s linebackers will have make sure they’re “money” on their defensive assignments if the Aggies want to force midnight on the Flashes.
“They’re going to have to step up,” Ena said of the linebackers. “I thought our [defensive] line and the [defensive backs] have done a really good job throughout this whole year. It’s really the backers making sure that we’re not the weak link.”
But even on the last game of the season — and some for Aggies, their college careers — the team is looking inward, just as it’s done all year.
“We’re not worried about their agenda,” Bright said. “We’re worried about our agenda. We play Aggie football and do what we need to do, the win is going to take care of itself.”
UTAH STATE VS KENT STATE
At Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Kickoff » Friday, 5:30 p.m. MST
TV » ESPN2
Radio » 1280 AM/97.5 FM
Last meeting » USU 27, Kent State 24 (1974)
Records » USU 7-5 (6-2 Mountain West), Kent State 6-6 (5-3 Mid-American Conference)
About Kent State » The Golden Flashes have never won a bowl game in school history in three attempts. … Only FBS team to win its final three games to come bowl eligible. … Coach Sean Lewis is 8-16 overall in two seasons with the Golden Flashes. … Finished 2-10 in 2018. … QB Daniel Crum has completed 68% of his passes this season.
About USU » Playing in its eighth bowl game in the last nine seasons. … QB Jordan Love ties former QB Tony Adams as the winningest quarterback in school history with a victory against Kent State. … Love and linebacker David Woodward both recently declared for the NFL Draft. … School’s third bowl game under coach Gary Andersen. … Andersen has never played Kent State as a coach.