BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
After his program’s season-opening 56-6 loss at the University of Central Florida on Aug. 31, first-year Kent State head coach Kenni Burns was looking for some quick improvement from his team.
Burns, a former Minnesota assistant, feels like that happened Saturday at Arkansas even though the Razorbacks handed the Golden Flashes a 28-6 loss at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Instead of being out-gained 723 yards to 240 as it was in Florida, Kent State gave up 308 yards to Arkansas (172 rushing, 136 passing) while gaining 200 (174 passing, 26 rushing).
“I alqwaya tell the the team that I am not going to look at the result, I am going to look at how we got to the result,” Burns said. “We did a lot of things that were better today. Obviously we didn’t win and we want to win the game, that’s we played, but I am encouraged with how we played. They had a tough week of practice and they came out and responded.”
Kent State took a 3-0 lead in the opening quarter only to see Arkansas linebacker Antonio Grier’s 25-yard interception return grab the momentum back for the the home team.
But the Razorbacks, who at one point had just 14 total yards offense (7 rushing and 7 passing) in the second quarter, took a 14-6 lead into intermission and then flipped the script in the second half.
The Golden Flashes had dominated time of possession by having it 20 minutes of the first 30.
But Arkansas turned that around after the halftime band performance by having the ball 23 off the last 30 minutes.
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson led a 12-play, 91-yard drive and then a 15-play, 73-yard scoring jaunt on his team’s second and third possessions of the second half.
Jefferson (13 of 19 passing for 136 yards and two touchdowns, 13 carries for 48 yards) hit Andrew Armstrong with a 5-yard TD pass with 2:20 left in the first half.
The two second-half scoring drives ended with Rashod Dubinion scoring on a one-yard run and Jefferson and Armstong connecting on a 9-yard scoring toss.
The Arkansas defense did not allow a touchdown on the day, finishing it off by stopping Kent State inside the 1-yard line late in the game.
“When you look at it, it was really a tale of two halves,” Burn said. “The first half I think we had more plays than they did, but the second half they were on the field a lot more. When you are playing a good team like that, you have got to control the clock and we didn’t do that in the second half. We have got to learn from it.
“This is a good football team and we are figuring it out each game we play. Offensively, obviously we have got to play than we did today. The big turnover gave them six points.
“Defensively, I thought they played harder and tackled way better. But we have got to play better and we know that as a football team, but that’s a group of guys who are truly giving you every thing they have got. We have just got to keep doing that and the wins will take care of themselves.”
Burns noted that his team loaded the box in the first half to limit Jefferson and the Arkansas running game to 43 yards, but the Razorback coaches adjusted to that.
“The first half, we kind of plus-oned then in the box to make it hard for them to run the ball with the running back, but they are good coaches and figured it out and ran him (Jefferson) a little bit more and used the running back as a lead blocker,” Burns said. “Which means they took our numbers away from us.
“So that is a good coaching job by them. We did a good job of getting them down (tackling) in the first half when we could, but again, if you look at it, in the first half they were three- to four-yard gains and the second half they were five- or six-yard gains.”
Arkansas, outgained 125-105 in total offense in the first half, would put up 111 yards to 4 in the third quarter and had a 203-74 advantage after halftime.
Burns feels like his team will benefit from playing in Orlando and Fayetteville in its first two outings this season.
“It’s two great venues with sold out crowds and what our guys come to Kent State for to play in this type of venues,” Burns said. “Eventually we will win these games. I have been a part of this where we won these games at Western Michigan and North Dakota State and I am telling you that we are close.
“We are really, really close and we just have to keep learning how to start fast as they did, accelerate in the middle, which we kind of did, and then finish strong and we are getting there.
“But I thought our guys handled the environment well.”
Arkansas’ defense ended the day with 11.5 tackles for lost yardage with 4 sacks.
“We are not a drop back pass team and when you get in third down, you have two a little bit to move the sticks,” Burns said. “It doesn’t help our O-line out. So those lead to situations where we have these one on one battles and we are not built for that. We are built for quick game, in and out of the hands and when we for third down and now it’s six-plus (yards) and it’s a drop back game and we are just not built for that.”
Arkansas hosts BYU (2-0) on Saturday with the Cougars having beaten Sam Houston 14-0 to open the season and downing Southern Utah 41-16 on Saturday.
Photo by John D. James