Coming off of consecutive 3-9 seasons Kent State is once again projected to finish in the bottom of the MAC preseason media poll. Ultimately the Golden Flashes respectable running game was not enough to overcome a passing game that, hampered by quarterback injury and ineffectiveness, finished dead last in FBS passing. The year prior K State finished in the bottom five. Projected starting quarterback Nick Holley started 2016 as a potential starter at running back, shifting to playing wide receiver before ultimately being forced under center by injuries. He accounted for 16 total touchdowns last year; throwing for four, rushing for ten and catching two. Junior George Bolas has starting experience as well. You can see 2016 opening day starter, Malik Mitchell, overthrow Nick Holley in the below gif.
Golden Flashes coach Paul Haynes was planning on using three quarterbacks during the first game until Mitchell injured his knee in fall practice. Mitchell broke his wrist vs. Alabama last year. Holley entered last season with a checkered injury history and only assumed the quarterback job because of an injury to Bollas.
Kent State likes to operate in either 11, 10 or empty personnel, almost exclusively playing out of the shotgun. When K State can it looks to run the ball, particularly if Holley (868 passing yards, 1018 rushing yards, 49.3% completion rate) is under center. The Golden Flashes like to use inside zone, either running true zone reads or using the tight end to seal off the backside defensive ends. Running back Justin Rankin showed solid vision on a handful of cutback runs.
Rankin was second on the team with 511 rushing yards, led the team in catches (28) and receiving yards (335) and K State showed itself to be willing to be creative to get him the ball.
Sophomore WR Kavious Price struggled to get involved in the passing game (when there are less than 1700 receiving yards to go around everyone does) but showed explosive upside with 128 rushing yards on twenty carries. Listed as a slot and serving as yet another WR/RB hybrid Raekwon James proved to be periodically dangerous on short passes and as a punt returner. All of the above mentioned skill players are under 5’10”, and while departed tight end Brice Fackler did not provide much, he was a consistent blocker. Whether Kent State has or can utilize a big receiver or tight end this year remains to be seen.
Kent State’s offensive line is small as well, with only one starter projected above 300 pounds. This leads to issues getting push up front, particularly when defenses can typically load the box without fear of the passing game.
Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell mixes in some draws and pin-pull sweeps but focuses primarily on inside and outside zone. The offensive line tends to focus more on reach blocking than on preventing penetration on outside zone, and sometimes, particularly when combined with jet sweeps, this can find an edge.
With that said it would be surprising and extremely worrisome if they were able to find consistent success on the ground against Clemson’s front seven. The lack of threat from the passing game means we may well see a lot of Dorian O’Daniel on the field instead of a nickel package. Any running play can have an RPO attached, but actually throwing the pass part of the pass option was a rare and inconsistent piece of the offense. The play action passing game was not particularly more effective.
Ultimately it’s hard to see the offensive line routinely put K State in good positions, particularly given the offensive struggles on standard downs the team faced last year. Clemson’s pass rush is more than capable of making things difficult for a unit that gave up 34 sacks last year.
This game should be a tune up for Clemson to get rotation and depth players live snaps in preparation for Auburn before long. I would be surprised to see Venables forced to dig deep into his playbook. Clemson should get a chance to see what it has at punt returner as well. With Louisville on the non conference schedule and difficult road trips to NIU and WMU to look forward to in conference it may be a long year for the Golden Flashes.