A week after one of its biggest wins in recent memory, Army is searching for answers again.
It has become an unfortunate trend for the Black Knights.
Following its stunning comeback over Boston College a week ago, the nation's best rushing team was held to 325 yards on the ground — 72 below its average — and never led in a 31-17 loss to Kent State on Saturday.
The Black Knights (1-5) haven't won back-to-back games since 2010, a streak of nine losses following a victory, and fell to a Mid-American Conference opponent for the sixth straight time.
"We got handled on offense, defense and in the kicking game," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "We had a chance to do some things, and we're really close. But we're saying that way too much."
Dri Archer rushed for 222 yards — including an explosive 87-yard touchdown late in the game — and completed a trick 24-yard touchdown pass as Kent State got off to its best start in four decades.
Spencer Keith threw for 60 yards and a touchdown and caught Archer's halfback option throw to give Kent State an early lead it never relinquished.
"That was a play we put in this week. We knew it was going to work," Archer said. "I was telling Coach (Darrell Hazell) about it since the beginning of the season. I always wanted to throw a touchdown pass."
Trayion Durham added 65 rushing yards and a score for the Golden Flashes (5-1), who won their first nonconference road game in five years and spoiled Army's homecoming.
Under Hazell, a former Army assistant, Kent State beat Army for the first time in three meetings to improve to 5-1 for only the third time since 1940.
"We came up with some big plays that we needed to have," Hazell said. "That was a good win for us. Big win. Huge. Number five."
Malcolm Brown had 92 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run that briefly brought Army within two touchdowns in the fourth.
Army showed little resemblance to the offensive juggernaut that came back against Boston College a week ago, when it had 595 total yards. This time, it converted only five of 17 third-down attempts.
Luke Batton led the way defensively for Kent State with 16 tackles.
Army kept its second series alive on a keeper by Steelman on fourth-and-1. Two plays later, the senior quarterback rolled right and found Chevaughn Lawrence for a 17-yard completion.
That put Army into Kent State territory, but the drive was fruitless, as Daniel Grochowski was nowhere close on a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Kent State hasn't let an opponent score in the first quarter this year.
"I'm disappointed we didn't coach better," Ellerson said. "I'm mad as hell at myself."
A week after converting three fourth-down tries, Kent State kept its streak going early in the second when Durham rushed for 5 yards on fourth-and-2.
That was nothing compared to what came next.
Kent State lined up for first down on the Army 24, and Hazell immediately called for a halfback option, perhaps taking some inspiration from the West Coast offense. Archer's arm was up to the task.
He took a pitch right from Keith, then stopped on a dime and threw downfield, connecting with Keith — taking everyone by surprise as he raced down the left sideline — for the 24-yard touchdown strike.
"The first time we crossed the 30-yard line, that was going to be one of our calls," Hazell said. "Bill Walsh was always one of those guys that thought if you're going to try trick plays, try them early enough so that if it doesn't work, you can recover."
It was a bad omen for Army, which is 3-14 under Ellerson when an opponent scores first.
The Golden Flashes scored through the air again with 6:44 left in the half when Keith, now back under center, connected with a diving Eric Adeyemi in the right side of the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown.
"A lot of times, we just didn't make the play," said Army linebacker Geoffery Bacon, who had 14 tackles.
Army faced a crucial fourth-and-inches in the third, when Steelman fell forward on a keeper but was stopped by Roosevelt Nix. The turnover on downs put Kent State on the Army 38.
Archer scurried for 20 yards on second down, and the Golden Flashes soon went up 17-0 on Freddy Cortez's 28-yard field goal from the right hash.
Army didn't score until Grochowski's 37-yard field goal cut it to 17-3 with 3:12 left in the third quarter.
"My hat is off to them," Steelman said. "We didn't find a way to break through in either half."
Kent State answered right back when Archer slipped through the line, broke two tackles and got loose in the open field for a 48-yard rush, setting up first-and-goal.
Then, the Golden Flashes converted their only third-down play in nine tries on the day — this one worth six points as Durham pushed through three tacklers and fell across the goal line for a touchdown. The initial call was upheld by replay, and Kent State was up 24-3 in the last minute of the third.
"Our guys have done an unbelievable job of coming to work every day and being mature about it," Hazell said. "There's no question that they expect to win."
Army scored its first touchdown on Brown's 5-yard rush with 12:02 left in the game, capping an 81-yard drive.
Down 24-10 after the extra point, Army had one last chance on fourth-and-2 from the Kent State 11, but Raymond Maples fumbled short of the marker.
The game was already effectively over when the versatile Archer, who leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game, showed his considerable speed on an 87-yard touchdown run with 6:22 left to make it 31-10.
Army got a 6-yard touchdown pass from A.J. Schurr to Patrick Laird in the final minutes to make it 31-17.