College Football: Miami facing ‘critical’ game vs. Kent State in MAC home opener

OXFORD -- One team was picked in a pre-season Mid-American Conference media poll to win the East Division championship with the other finishing second.

The positions were reversed in a later poll of MAC coaches.

While it may seem a bit early for a monumental showdown – Miami (2-3, 0-1) and Kent State (2-3, 1-0) are playing only their second conference games – that’s how the schedule was drawn up. The RedHawks and Golden Flashes face off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Yager Stadium in Oxford.

If either team has more on the line than the other, it’s Miami. The RedHawks dropped their conference opener last Saturday at Buffalo, 24-20, while the Golden Flashes piled up impressive offensive numbers while coming from behind to pull out a 31-24 overtime win over Ohio in their homecoming game.

Along the way, Kent State became the first Football Bowl Subdivision team in history to have a receiver and rusher both reach 240 yards in the same game. Redshirt junior wide receiver Dante Cephas piled up a program-record 246 receiving yards on 13 catches on his way to being named the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week.

“He does a great job of playing each play for what it is,” Kent State coach Sean Lewis said. “They were giving him a lot of attention and rightfully so. He knows he warrants that and has earned that, and he stays consistent throughout.

“He has done such a tremendous job over his time here of developing his body and becoming a complete wide receiver,” Lewis added. “Where he is really excelling this year is his yards after the catch. He is doing a tremendous job running aggressively, running smart, knowing when he can extend the journey and knowing when the journey is done.”

Classmate Marquez Cooper set career highs with 240 yards and 40 carries while scoring two touchdowns.

Cephas formed a record-setting receiving tandem with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Devontez Walker, who caught six passes for a career-high 107 yards, making them the first 200-100 yard pass-catching duo in program history.

Keying the prolific attack was redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee, who threw for 398 yards and a touchdown – more than half of Kent State’s program-record 736 yards of total offense.

“Those are mind-boggling numbers,” ninth-year Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “They ran for 338 (yards) and passed for 398. They have a new quarterback. He’s a twitchy athlete who has a howitzer for an arm. They have two big, strong and fast wideouts who can run right by you and catch the ball.

“Kent State is always a threat offensively. They’re dynamic. This is the most complete Kent State team we’ve played so far.”

The Golden Flashes lead the 12-team MAC with an average of 219.0 rushing yards per game, but they’ll confront an evolving Miami defense that allows a conference-best 84.8 rushing yards and 338.4 total offense yards per game. Whether Saturday’s defense would include seventh-year middle linebacker Ryan McWood probably won’t be known until game time. McWood broke a hand in Miami’s 17-14 win at Northwestern on September 24. He had a cast applied and returned to that game but missed the Buffalo game after undergoing a surgical procedure. Sophomore Dominic Nardone is listed as the starter for this week’s game.

Kent State was picked to win the East in coaches’ poll, one season after capturing the division championship by one game over runnerup Miami. The RedHawks were this season’s media choice.

Regardless of predictions, Martin knows the loss at Buffalo makes this game crucial.

“All of the games are important, but this one is critical for our long-term aspirations,” he said. “We’ve got to win. We’ve got penalties and mental mistakes that we’ve got get cleaned up.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Kent State at Miami, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1450

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