ATHENS – Who to believe? That is the question when it comes to Saturday’s game between Georgia and Kent State.
Kirby Smart, coach of the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs, calls coach Sean Lewis’ Golden Flashes (1-2) a “really, really good football team” capable of knocking them off. Meanwhile, Lewis infamously referred to Georgia (3-0) this week as, quote, “the greatest collection of talent that has ever been assembled on a football team.”
Las Vegas handicappers, who opened their books this week with the Bulldogs as 42½-point favorites, have seen it rise to 45½ heading into Saturday’s noon game (SEC Network-Plus). That means the money continues to flow toward Georgia to cover the spread.
Here are five more considerations as the Bulldogs prepare to host their visitors from the Mid-American Conference:
The Flashes are not afraid of a little competition – or some major Power 5 comp, for that matter. Saturday’s trip to Sanford Stadium is Kent State’s third in four games inside the home of a Top 25 opponent.
Housed in Kent, Ohio, the Flashes’ football program opened the season on the road against No. 18 Washington (where it lost 45-20); flew directly to Tulsa, Okla., to practice all week for its Sept. 10 game against No. 6-ranked Oklahoma in Norman (where it lost 33-3); and returned home to face Long Island University (which it beat 63-10).
The Golden Flashes do it for the money. They’re picking up a $1.9 million check from UGA after already collecting $3.3 million in guarantees from Washington and Oklahoma. That income will go toward funding not just Kent State’s football program, but all 19 of its varsity NCAA sports.
This is not a new philosophy for the school’s athletic department. With the exception of the pandemic-altered 2020 season, the Flashes played three Power 5 road games early in the season in 2018 (Illinois, Penn State, Ole Miss), 2019 (Arizona State, Auburn, Wisconsin) and last year (Texas A&M, Iowa, Maryland). They’re 0-11 in those games, losing them by an average margin of 29.2 points.
Lewis, a 36-year-old former Wisconsin player who was the youngest head coach in FBS when he was hired in 2018, has overseen all of those games.
“There’s no looking forward to that,” Lewis said of facing a Georgia team with 67 players who were either 4- or 5-star-rated recruiting prospects. “Again, the opportunities that we have and the moments we have in front of us, we only get 12 of these a year. We cherish each and every one of them. So, by no means, we ain’t looking past this one. We’re going down there to handle our business and going down there to win.”
While that remains highly unlikely, the formula has worked well for the Flashes have played in bowl games in two of the past three seasons, and they finished first or second in their division during that span. They were picked to win the MAC this season.
“FlashFAST” is the trademarked name of Kent State’s offense. As the moniker indicates, it’s predicated upon moving very quickly from play to play. It does not, however, mean throwing the ball all over the yard.
In fact, the Golden Flashes get the majority of their yards on the ground. They run the ball twice as often as they throw (139 to 63) and are averaging a healthy 221.3 yards per game rushing. Last year, Kent State ranked third in FBS rushing at 248.6 yards a game.
And, typically, the Flashes score a lot. Despite playing over-the-top competition thus far, Kent State’s still averaging 28.7 points per game. That average was helped by the 63 points the Flashes put up against Long Island. But that represented the fourth time under Lewis the Flashes have topped the 60-point barrier.
So, it’s a very productive offense when things are clicking. And fast. Against Long Island, all nine scoring drives were under five minutes long, eight were under four and three were under two.
Running back Marquez Cooper is on the Maxwell Award watch list after rushing for 1,205 yards last year. Receiver Dante Cephas, who had 1,240 yards receiving a year ago, got open for 106 yards on six catches against Washington and is averaging 76.7 yards per game. At the controls is first-year quarterback Collin Schlee, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound junior who has passed for 508 yards and three touchdowns while also averaging 7.4 yards per rush.
‘The Post Office’
Kent State’s offense has a nickname. So do many others that Georgia has played in the past and will play this season. Considering what the Bulldogs have been able to do on offense so far this season, perhaps theirs should also have a name.
Under sixth-year senior quarterback Stetson Bennett, Georgia is leading the SEC in passing (376.7 ypg), is averaging an SEC-best 7.9 yards per play and is second in the league in total offense (532.3 ypg). Bennett leads the SEC in completion percentage (73.9%) and total offense (327.7 ypg) and is the first college player since Patrick Mahomes to throw for more than 250 yards in the first three games while also running for a touchdown in each contest.
The Bulldogs are doing all this in a brilliantly repurposed offensive scheme under the direction of third-year coordinator Todd Monken. Built around the unique skill sets of tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington and the quick-decision-making and running abilities of Bennett, the offense is designed to complete short passes that give Georgia one-on-one mismatches on the perimeter. As a result, the Bulldogs have 19 different receivers who have caught passes – led by running back Kenny McIntosh with 15 – and six different players have touchdown receptions.
An AJC social-media survey asked Georgia fans to suggest names. That resulted in a number of varied suggestions, including “Bennett and the Jets” (after the old Elton John hit ‘Bennie and the Jets’), “Monken’s Mayhem,” “Brock & Awe” and “The Post Office” (because, of course, it is from there that the “Mailman” Bennett delivers).
About that chain
By now, most probably Georgia fans are familiar with the “Savage Pads,” which the defensive players have donned on the sideline the past five years in honor of creating a takeaway. Well, now the Bulldogs have a new tradition, and it was brought to Athens by first-year defensive backfield coach Fran Brown.
Meet the $MOBB chain.
The custom-made gold necklace is awarded each week to the member of the secondary who best achieved the unit’s goals for the previous week. That extends from the field to the classroom.
Freshman safety Malaki Starks, who had three tackles and a 42-yard interception return in Georgia’s 48-7 win over South Carolina on Saturday, is wearing the necklace this week.
“We love it,” said Jackson, who earned the chain in Week 2. “It’s a really cool chain, and we’re all trying to compete and win it. ... We all try to show it off when we have it.”
“MOBB” is actually an acronym for “More Opportunity Building Brand.” So far, a different safety has earned it each week.
“It’s an extra incentive from Coach Fran to do good as a defensive back corps,” said Smith, who earned it for his work in Week 1. “I think that helps us build a competitive balance within our team.”
Georgia’s DBs have collected five interceptions. Along with a fumble recovery and zero turnovers by the offense, the Bulldogs carry a hardy plus-6 turnover margin into the season’s fourth week.
How to watch
Saturday’s game will be carried on the SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus. Note the “plus” at the end of those names.
As part of the SEC’s contract with ESPN, the broadcaster has the right to air at least one non-conference game per school on its streaming platforms. SEC Network-Plus is accessible at no additional charge to SEC Network subscribers with a customer’s TV provider credentials. The games also can be accessed through the ESPN App on smartphones, tablets, connected streaming devices or via espn.com/watch.
ESPN-Plus is a standalone streaming service that requires a subscription separate from a customer’s TV provider credentials. It is available to stream through the ESPN App on connected devices and on ESPN.com.
Fans seeking guidance can contact ESPN Customer Care at 1-888-549-3776 or go to support.espn.com/hc/en-us.