The Golden Flashes were plagued by negative plays that stalled their own drives or extended their opponent's. Finally, after struggling to move the chains for most of the day, the Flashes’ offense created sparks of hope late in both halves.
On defense, the KSU forced the Jaguars to punt on five consecutive second-half possessions before finally wearing down on a game-sealing touchdown march in the final minutes.
Before that final drive closed on a 23-yard touchdown run by Jay Jones with 1:12 to play, Kent State still managed to put itself in position for a 32-yard field goal that could have tied the game with 4:04 remaining.
"Again, we came up short," said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes, whose Golden Flashes fell to 0-2 at home to start the season. "I still like our fight. I still like our attitude … But we are not good enough to get negative plays and overcome them.
"There is a lot of football to play. We have to make sure we continue to do the things we are doing well, and then make sure we look at the things we are not doing well and improve."
For the second consecutive week, Kent State's biggest issues were on offense. The running game managed just 64 yards on 28 attempts for a 2.3 ypc average. Quarterback Colin Reardon also struggled, despite tossing touchdown passes of 8 yards to Nick Holley late in the second quarter and 44 yards to Casey Pierce in the fourth.
Reardon completed just one of his first 10 passes as South Alabama built an early 16-0 lead. The Flashes finished with 213 yards on 17-of-40 passing, including a late interception.
"The good thing is you look at these first two games and we still had chances to win," said Haynes. "If we play a little better early, we are probably ahead … We had a couple of good runs, and that helped us, but we have a long way to go to be consistent in running the football. It will help us throwing the football if we can become a better running team."
The touchdown throw to Holley marked the first career score for the sophomore wide reciever-turned-running back. Holley also led the Flashes with 47 yards on 14 carries.
South Alabama grabbed 2-0 first-quarter lead on a safety after Reardon was called for intentional grounding while trying to elude pressure on a throw from his own end zone. The Jaguars extended their advantage to 9-0 on a 1-yard touchdown throw from Brandon Bridge to Shavarez Smith.
Two plays before that first touchdown, Kent State lost what it thought was a drive-ending, tipped-ball interception in the end zone by Nate Holley when cornerback Najee Murray was flagged for a controversial pass-interference penalty.
The Jaguars added another one-yard touchdown on a Jones run with 8:01 to play. After that, however, Kent State's defense held strong until the final minutes.
"They played hard," Haynes said of his defense. "They got us off the field with those three-and-outs … When you play a spread team with two running backs, it is tough to defend. You are playing the game from 20-yard line-to-20-yard line. So, we don't talk about yardage because you are going to give up yardage. You just have to buckle down in the red zone, and our guys did a good job of buckling down on those (five) straight drives in the second half."
Bridge completed 15-of-25 passes for 161 yards while Jones finished with 102 yards on 21 carries for South Alabama (1-0).
Kent State (0-2) will travel to Ohio State next weekend for a noon kickoff with the Buckeyes.
(Courtesy of KSU Athletics)