Offense the Story as Kent St. Opens Spring
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 27, 2012
Who starts spring ball on a Tuesday? Kent State, that’s who. And Michigan State, Kansas, Marshall, Ball State, Utah State, Ohio and Massachusetts. For the purpose of this exercise, however, let’s focus on the Golden Flashes, who ended last season within one win of that ever-elusive bowl berth. Winning six games is rare indeed for Kent State, which has cracked that mark only five times since Don James left for Washington following the 1974 season — 37 years and 11 head coaches ago. Winning five games, on the other hand, is fairly common; the Golden Flashes have been close-but-no-cigar in each of the last three seasons.
Darrell Hazell won five games in his debut with the program, much like Doug Martin did over his final two seasons. So was Kent State really improved, as some have suggested? There were only five wins, one against an F.C.S. foe in non-conference play and another four against the MAC.
The Golden Flashes scored less points, 205, and allowed more points, 291, than in either of Martin’s last two seasons. The offense finished second-to-last nationally in yards per game and 114th in scoring. Even the little things were a struggle for Kent State: Freddy Cortez went 18-23 on extra points.
But in focusing on the details — the offensive ineptitude, for example — you miss the big picture. Kent State was able to win five games despite the cringe-worthy offense and the coaching change; you’d think, heading into the year, that such a combination would lead to a discouraging, two- or three-win season.
That wasn’t the case. Kent State opened the year with three straight losses, but the losses came to Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette and Kansas State — 32 wins between the trio. The Golden Flashes lost three straight to open MAC play, but those losses came to Northern Illinois, Ohio and Miami (Ohio), the latter by six points.
By 9-3, to be exact, and that loss painfully encapsulated Kent State’s season. The defense was there; the defense has been there for several years, in fact. The right attitude was there. The offense, on the other hand, wasn’t. It’s not surprising to hear that the Flashes open the spring with a heavy focus on the offensive side of the ball.
Spencer Keith needs to carry his strong finish to last fall into 2012. From the season opener through Oct. 15, a period of seven games, Keith threw three touchdowns against eight interceptions. Alabama’s pass defense made every quarterback look silly, but Keith’s line nearly defies everyday football logic: 47 attempts, 99 yards.
Only once, in the 9-3 loss to Miami, did Keith average more than 4.9 yards per attempt. In a 40-10 loss to Northern Illinois, Keith threw two passes, was intercepted once, and spent the rest of the game on the sidelines in favor of freshman Spencer McCloud, who completed 6 of his 22 attempts.
Hazell was wise to stick with his starter. Over the last five games of 2011, Keith threw eight touchdowns without an interception. He threw for 281 yards in a win over Central Michigan, Keith’s highest single-game total since his freshman season. While his numbers weren’t pretty — 11 of 25 for 173 yards — Keith did orchestrate three separate comebacks in a win over Eastern Michigan.
The offense grew with Keith. The Flashes averaged 180 yards per game in its 1-6 start; if you remove South Alabama, the Flashes averaged 163.2 yards per game against their first six F.B.S. opponents. But Kent State averaged 355.6 yards per game over its last five, led by a season-high 422 yards against the Chippewas.
Freshman running back Trayion Durham rushed for at least 51 yards in each game during Kent State’s 4-2 second half. Durham and senior Jacquise Terry combined for 611 yards and 6 touchdowns over the Flashes’ last five games. The offensive line took a step forward during the same stretch; this period coincides with junior Josh Kline’s move from right tackle to left guard following the loss to the RedHawks.
We saw improvement. But can the Flashes continue this trend come September? One thing that’s important: Kent State can’t allow a lousy start to cloud what could be a successful season. As always, the Flashes will open with a bang, with road games against Kentucky and Rutgers, so it’s entirely possible that the offense doesn’t regain its footing until the start of MAC play.
But with the defense in place — defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix is completely and undeservedly overlooked nationally — Kent State must rely on continued offensive growth in order to achieve its goal of reaching bowl play. It’s been 40 years, back when James was in town, since the Flashes have gone bowling. The spring may give some sign as to whether Hazell can end this bowl-free streak.
Tags: Darrell Hazell, Jacquise Terry, Josh Kline, Kent State, Spencer Keith, Spencer McCloud, Trayion Durham
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