CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Too many turnovers and a rash of other mistakes combined to crush Kent State's hopes early in a 52-3 loss to Illinois in Saturday's 2015 season opener at Memorial Stadium.
The Fighting Illini turned three interceptions and a muffed punt by the Golden Flashes into 28 quick points while building a 38-0 halftime lead. Three of the four scores off of turnovers arrived on one-play drives lasting fewer than seven seconds each.
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"When you play against a team on paper that is more athletic than you and then you turn the ball over, don't play well on special teams and make other mistakes, a game can get away from you early," said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes. "The good thing is that when you go through that locker room, there are not a lot of guys hanging their heads. Yes, we were disappointed. But we are going to grind it out and compete.
"It was tough to get down to a good football team the way we did. I don't want to say (the postponement) was part of what happened. They made plays. We didn't. We turned the ball over, and we made mistakes. ...That's it."
After a Wes Lunt-to-Tyler White touchdown pass of 2 yards opened the scoring for Illinois just three minutes into the first quarter, UI transformed KSU's four first-half turnovers into a 34-yard Lunt-to-Matt Murdock touchdown pass with 11:04 to play in the first, a 21-yard Lunt-to-Josh Ferguson touchdown six minutes later, and a 34-yard Lunt-to-Geronimo Allison score with 10:36 to play in the second quarter.
Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon suffered three interceptions before the game was 20 minutes old. A muffed punt by Ernest Calhoun accounted for turnover No. 4.
The Golden Flashes played turnover-free football in the second half, but by then the damage was already done.
The lone points of the day for Kent State were provided by redshirt freshman Shane Hynes on a 43-yard field goal with 8:30 to play in the fourth quarter.
Poor blocking on an earlier field goal attempt of 22 yards spoiled Hynes' hope of breaking the shutout just before halftime. The missed assignment up front came two plays after a false start penalty robbed the Flashes of a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Trayion Durham. That scoring opportunity was set up by one of the few bright spots provided by Kent State's offense – a 55-yard pass from Readon to Kris White, who was hauled down at the Illini 11. Durham followed by carrying a slew of tacklers 10 yards before finally getting dropped at the Illini 1.
A 27-yard touchdown pass from George Bollas to P.J. Simmons late in the fourth quarter was also nullified by a false start.
"I saw some things to build on today," said Haynes. "We scored a couple of touchdowns and had them negated by two freshmen moving early. We had a lot of young guys out there. Six or seven of them were true freshmen who are going to be good players for us in the future."
A total of 21 players made their debut for Kent State within the game's first three quarters. The Flashes also escaped Saturday relatively injury free.
"Only a few minor bumps and bruises," said Haynes.
Reardon completed 15-of-34 passes for 156 yards and eight KSU ball carriers combined for 59 yards on 38 carries attempts as the Flashes were out-gained 342-245 by Illinois.
Lunt threw for 162 yards on 11-for-19 passing for the Illini before giving way to backup Chace Crouch in the third quarter.
An acrobatic interception by Demetrius Monday on a long throw by Crouch in the third provided the day's defensive highlight for Kent State.
The Golden Flashes open their home season next week when Delaware State visits Dix Stadium for a 6 p.m. Saturday kickoff.
(Courtesy of Kent State Athletics)