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Maryland football vs. Kent State preview

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The Terps are looking to remain perfect after their 3-0 start to the 2021 season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After knocking off its first three opponents of the season, Maryland football will close out its nonconference regular-season slate with a meeting against the Kent State Golden Flashes in College Park on what will be Young Terps Day.

“This is a team that’s already played two top 10 football teams and they didn’t blink,” Maryland head coach Michael Locksley said of Kent State. “And so, I can tell you they won’t come into The Shell intimidated because they’ve played, like I said, on the road against two top 10 teams.”

It has been quite the season thus far for the undefeated Terps, who have already taken down West Virginia, Howard and Illinois in 2021 to stay afloat in a crowded and elite Big Ten. Maryland’s latest win came over Illinois, in which senior kicker Joseph Petrino nailed a 32-yard field goal as the clock expired to award the team its third win in three games with a 20-17 victory last Friday night.

“This was one of the first games where I thought we had a chance to possibly fold under adversity and was really pleased with the way the team responded,” Locksley said. “We preach not being scoreboard watchers, to play the next play and stay in the moment with each and every game no matter the opponent, no matter the situation of the game, and that it really doesn’t matter until the game is over, and I felt like our kids tried to do that against Illinois.”

Maryland is 3-0 for the first time since 2016 and it has outscored its opponents 112-41 over the course of the opening three games of the season. Now, the Terps have one more important dress rehearsal before Iowa, one of the Big Ten’s finest programs visits College Park.

The game will be broadcasted on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 3:30 p.m. and it will be aired on Big Ten Network and can be heard on Maryland Sports Radio Network as well.

Let’s take a look at what Maryland is getting on the field when Kent State comes to Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium this Saturday.

Kent State Golden Flashes (1-2, Mid-American Conference)

2020 season: 3-1 (Shortened season due to COVID-19)

Head coach Sean Lewis has helped turn the Kent State football program around ever since becoming the 22nd head coach in program history on Dec. 2017. He’s one of the youngest coaches in college football at just 35-years-old, but his 2019 and 2020 campaigns with the Golden Flashes make it clear that he’s a formidable football mind. Even with the short season last year, Lewis got the Golden Flashes to yet another winning record with three wins in four games. And since Kent State went 7-6 in 2019, the program’s winning record in 2020 secured the first back-to-back winning seasons at Kent State for the first time since the 1976-77 seasons.

This season, Kent State has worked its way to a 1-2 record, with the lone win coming against the Virginia Military Institute. The Golden Flashes’ two defeats have come from Texas A&M as well as Iowa a week ago, a team that Maryland will face in College Park on Oct. 1.

Players to know

Dustin Crum, graduate student quarterback, 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, No. 7 — Crum is the leader of this Golden Flashes’ offense and was a 2020 First Team All-Mid American Conference selection. However, this year Crum hasn’t necessarily found his rhythm through his team’s first three games in 2021. He’s a decently mobile quarterback with 108 rushing yards in three games, but his passing leaves much to be desired. He has thrown for just two touchdowns to go along with two interceptions this season and has only one game in which he completed over 70% of his pass attempts. The most passing yards in a game that Crum had come against Iowa, where he threw for 185 total.

“On offense, their quarterback is the guy that makes them go,” Locksley said of Kent State. “Crum is a savvy veteran quarterback that knows that system really, really well.”

Keshunn Abram, fifth year wide receiver, 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, No. 80 — If there’s anyone that Maryland will need to lock down on the defensive end, it’s Abram. His first two games of the season weren’t efficient as he totaled four catches for 29 yards, however, Abram’s breakout game was against an Iowa defense that’s one of the best in the nation. Last week, Abram snagged six catches for a massive 138 yards and a touchdown. To put that in perspective, through three of Kent State’s games, no other individual receiver has reached the century mark for receiving yards besides Abram. Abram might have a tough time succeeding while facing Maryland’s stout secondary, but he’s definitely a player to keep an eye on.

Elvis Hines, fifth year cornerback, 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, No. 14 — Hines has been one of the best performers on the Golden Flashes’ defense this season. He is tied for the most interceptions on Kent State with three in three games. Hines registered one interception against the Virginia Military Institute and then collected two more when the Golden Flashes faced Texas A&M. Hines also made four solo tackles against Iowa. He’ll be one of the main players in the secondary that might give Maryland junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa some trouble in the passing game.

Strength

Running back depth. While the program's offense features a fairly top-heavy wide receiver corps, the running backs are a positional group to watch out for come this weekend. Sophomore Marquez Cooper and Xavier Williams have split the lead-backfield duties, as the duo is seemingly a 1A-1B combination in the ground game. Both players have exactly 30 carries, though Cooper has 28 more rushing yards. Each back averages over five yards per carry, and they will both be once again relied on against Maryland.

Weakness

Road woes. While Kent State did take down the Virginia Military Institute 60-10 on its home turf, the same success for the Golden Flashes has not been found on the road so far this season. Both of Kent State’s losses have come in enemy territory and it hasn’t been pretty. The Golden Flashes have been outscored 17-71 on the road in 2021. Even though one of those losses came against Iowa, a top team in the country, Kent State’s lack of success on the road is something that has a chance to continue when it travels to College Park this Saturday.

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland’s offense bounce back after a wake-up call against Illinois? Through two games to start the season, Maryland scored 92 points. However, when it took on Illinois, the offense stalled on a fair amount of drives against a not-so-stellar Fighting Illini defense. The Terps eventually managed just 20 points on the evening, which easily marks their season-low in an individual game.

“As an offense, we felt like we didn’t play our best game,” junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said of Maryland’s offense against Illinois. “I think the only thing that helped us through was our brotherhood and playing for each other, so we battled through adversity and I feel like a team that can do that is a great team.”

Maryland totaled plenty of yards, finishing with 481, but it took a last-minute defensive stop and offensive drive to seal the deal against a weaker Illinois team. Iowa just managed to score 30 points against Kent State, showing that the Golden Flashes are fairly exploitable on the defensive end.

2. Will Nick Cross continue to be Maryland’s most effective defensive player? Junior defensive back Nick Cross has been a staple on this Maryland defense through three games and he has another solid opportunity to build on his strong season against Kent State. He leads the team in solo tackles with 10, pass breakups with four and is tied for the most interceptions with two. He has been an all-around disruptor in the secondary for a Maryland program that has conceded just 41 points in three contests. Cross continues to make his presence known in the secondary and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him deliver yet another good effort against the Golden Flashes.

3. Can Maryland avoid an upset before a massive stretch of Big Ten play? Maryland is 3-0 for the first time since 2016 and it has a great chance to build on that undefeated record with Kent State coming to town. The Golden Flashes are not as talented as some of the other Big Ten teams that Maryland will soon face, which makes this matchup even more critical for the Terps to handle on their home turf, and it won’t be easy.

“They’re a really good team, they’re tough, they fight,” Maryland junior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said ahead of the Kent State matchup. “I think they played two ranked opponents and they’ve been in pretty close games with them.”

After Kent State, Maryland has Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana and then Penn State all lined up on the schedule. There are no easy wins to come by in the Big Ten, meaning that a winnable nonconference game at home is something that Maryland should be desperate to take advantage of. Only time will tell if Maryland can improve to 4-0 heading into a Friday night matchup with Iowa next week.