The Kent State Golden Flashes captured their first bowl victory in program history by upsetting the Utah State Aggies 51-41 in the Frisco Bowl at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Friday.
The Aggies trailed 27-16 early in the third quarter but entered the final frame with a 27-26 lead following a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Love to wide receiver Deven Thompkins and a recovered fumble that resulted in a 45-yard field goal from Dominik Eberle.
However, the Golden Flashes took back the lead less than two minutes into the fourth quarter and never looked back. Utah State came within 44-41 with roughly three minutes remaining in regulation, but Kent State put the game away when quarterback Dustin Crum converted a 4th-and-1 with a four-yard touchdown run at the 1:56 mark.
As a result, Kent State handed the Aggies their first loss of the season when leading after three quarters, and the team moved to 7-6. The Golden Flashes had ended their 2019 regular season on a three-game winning streak to become bowl-eligible.
This marked Kent State's third bowl appearance and its first since 2012, when they lost 17-13 to Arkansas State in what was then known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Utah State has been much more successful. The Aggies won last season's New Mexico Bowl 52-13 over North Texas and have a 4-4 bowl record since 2011. The defeat dropped them to 7-6 for the year.
QB Dustin Crum: 289 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 INT on 21-of-26 passing; 23 carries, 147 yards, 1 TD
RB Will Matthews: 17 carries, 56 yards, 1 TD
WR Isaiah McKoy: 6 catches, 103 yards, 1 TD
WR Antwan Dixon: 5 catches, 99 yards, 1 TD
QB Jordan Love: 317 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT on 30-of-39 passing; 10 carries, 16 yards
RB Gerold Bright: 21 carries, 94 yards, 1 TD
WR Siaosi Mariner: 7 catches, 113 yards, 2 TD
WR Deven Thompkins: 4 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD; 1 carry, 57 yards, 1 TD
WR Jordan Nathan: 9 catches, 71 yards
Jordan Love Sets Utah State Records in Final Game
Aggies head coach Gary Andersen allowed Love to play after the 21-year-old was charged with possession of marijuana Tuesday.
"There was never any thought that he wouldn't play," Andersen told reporters Thursday, referencing the university's policy that first-time offenders of marijuana possession have their eligibility determined by their head coach.
With the start, Love etched his name once again in the Utah State record book. His 30 completions propelled him to 293, which the ESPN2 broadcast noted is the most for a single season in school history. He also set the record for total career offensive yards:
It was the redshirt junior quarterback's final game with the Aggies, as he declared for the 2020 NFL draft on Dec. 10:
Unfortunately, he came up one victory short of tying the winningest Utah State quarterback.
Love showcased accuracy, efficiency and poise in the pocket. The Aggies' first drive went for 75 yards on 10 plays and was capped by four-yard touchdown run by Bright. Love went 4-of-4 for 41 yards along with an eight-yard run.
His first touchdown came on a 25-yard pass to Mariner midway through the second quarter to tie the game at 17, and it was a nice answer after an interception by Kent State's Mandela Lawrence-Burke late in the first.
The California native's third-quarter touchdown drive was reminiscent of how he began the contest, as he went 6-of-6 for 45 yards and a touchdown. Love then led the Aggies on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in under two minutes that was punctuated by a 11-yard touchdown pass to Mariner after the quarterback had to scramble and extend the play outside of the pocket.
Love finished 2019 with 3,402 yards, 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions over 13 games. Across three collegiate seasons, he recorded 8,600 yards, 60 touchdowns and 29 picks. Love's best campaign came in 2018, when he threw for 3,567 yards, 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions with a 64 percent completion rate. That performance earned him buzz as a possible first-round pick in 2020.
Entering the Frisco Bowl, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Love as the fourth-best quarterback and 44th-best overall prospect in the 2020 draft class.
Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts and 2018 Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa will overshadow him, but there are plenty of quarterback-needy NFL franchises that will be intrigued by his potential.
Kent State Can Feel Optimistic with Sean Lewis in Charge
The Golden Flashes were the only FBS team to win their last three games to become bowl-eligible, according to the ESPN2 broadcast. Their run began with a 30-27 comeback win over now 8-5 Buffalo on Nov. 14—a game that saw them trailing by 21 points with eight minutes remaining.
That is a testament to second-year head coach Sean Lewis, who is the youngest head coach in the FBS at 33 years old and improved the team from a 2-10 campaign last season.
The Athletic's Jesse Temple gave a glimpse into how Lewis is changing the culture at Kent State in an all-access story surrounding the Golden Flashes' 48-0 loss to then-No. 8 Wisconsin on Oct. 5. In it is a speech Lewis gave his players prior to the matchup:
"Listen now, all right? Decide. Decide that we are going to be the more violent and more physical team. Exceed their violence. Be disciplined. One play at a time. Do your job. Win, clear it, move on. Win, clear it, move on. Win, clear it, move on. For 60 freakin' minutes, play in and play out, one play at a time. Strain and fight together as a family. Hold the f--king line and let's go beat the s--t out of someone and put some respect on our name."
Lewis and Kent State earned respect Friday night:
The Golden Flashes were led by Lewis from the sideline but on the field by Crum, who lit up Utah State for a career-high 147 rushing yards on 23 attempts. His most important run came on a 4th-and-1 and secured the historical victory:
"This ain't your old grandpa's Kent State," Lewis said on the field after the game. "This is Flash-fast football, and we doing new and great things."
Kent State left little room to argue with Lewis' sentiment. His decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 while holding a 44-41 lead with under two minutes remaining felt like a program-shifting moment. With the likes of Crum, McKoy and Dixon set to return next season, the Golden Flashes are in position to take another leap forward in 2020.