KENT: This offense is going to face Alabama in two weeks?
Oh boy, this could get ugly quickly when Kent State travels to Alabama on Sept. 3 to face the No. 2 Crimson Tide.
That was prevailing thought throughout a majority of Kent State’s football jersey scrimmage early Saturday afternoon at Dix Stadium.
The Golden Flashes’ defense had dominated a mostly anemic Gold Team offense that had only managed to somewhat effectively move the ball on the ground while the defense ran out to a near-40-point lead during the two-plus-hour scrimmage.
“The Blue Team came out and got a lot of negative plays and got some turnovers early,” first-year KSU coach Darrell Hazell said. “They were running to the football and looked really good. The front was outstanding, kept pushing the pocket.”
Sophomore defensive back Darius Polk and junior transfer C.J. Malauulu, a linebacker, led the group with nine tackles. Senior linebacker Byron Tyson wreaked havoc several times in recording five tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“That’s what our defensive coaches have been preaching — come out and play hard, attack right away from minute one to minute 60,” Tyson said.
But for as good as the defense looked, the offense wasn’t helping itself much.
“Obviously, we’ve got to take care of the ball better with four turnovers,” Hazell said. “The operation, getting plays in, was OK. But it needs to get better as we had two or three delay-of-game penalties…“[But] in a lot of these jersey scrimmages, the tide always changes at some point.”
With the offense being held without a touchdown and suffering three interceptions and a fumble, the defense was well on its way to a blowout. Then suddenly, the momentum swung the other way with about a third of the scrimmage remaining.
Suddenly, the offense began clicking behind junior quarterback Spencer Keith and reeled off four touchdowns — two on the ground and another two in the air — to rally for a 70-69 win that was capped by kicker Freddy Cortez’s game-winning 48-yard field goal.
“It was great to hit a field goal like that to win it,“ Hazell said. “It was huge. I couldn‘t have scripted that any better.”
Despite the winning rally, Keith knows he needs to improve his reads and communication with the receivers before the season opener at Alabama, where it won’t be so easy to dig out of an early hole.
“I‘ve got to check blitzes and protections a little better,” said Keith, who was 12-for-24 for 137 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on the day. “I need to get the calls to the receivers on the line a little quicker.”
With Keith and the receiving corps struggling early, three young running backs stepped up to carry the offense as freshmen Robert Hollomon and Anthony Meray gained more than 100 yards each.
Hollomon amassed a scrimmage-best 133 yards on 19 carries. Meray used long gains of 17, 18, 22 and 39 yards to compile 107 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
“[Meray is] really talented,” Hazell said. “He’s a great draw and zone runner. He’s really quick between the tackles, has great acceleration in the hole, good balance and is tough.”
Adding to the freshman running back movement later in the scrimmage was 6-foot-2, 240-pound bruiser Trayion Durham, who added 55 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. It took awhile, but once Keith got the air game going, junior wide receiver Eric Adeyemi (three receptions for 55 yards) and fifth-year senior Sam Kirkland (three receptions for 39 yards) each caught touchdown passes during the late rally.
“[Adeyemi] is a young player, but has all the ability to be a great player,” Hazell said of the transfer from the University of Kentucky who had to sit out last season per NCAA rules. “He’s gifted enough that he can take the ball the length of the field, is fast and has really good ball skills.”
• Sophomore defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix (dislocated right big toe) watched the scrimmage from the sideline, once again being held out of action for “precautionary reasons.”
“He could have played if it was a real game,” Hazell said. “[But] those toes are tough because you’re always pushing off them, so they take some time to heal.”
Also dinged up is junior receiver Tyshon Goode, who looked to have hurt a shoulder in the scrimmage and was being examined afterward by the team’s training staff and doctor.
• Junior receiver Matthew Hurdle has shown potential over the years, but never much consistency. During camp, that appears to be changing. Hurdle contributed three receptions for 20 yards Saturday and Hazell called him “the best guy on offense in camp.”
“[Hurdle’s] made the most improvement from the spring time,” Hazell said. “I think he’s special. He‘s an ‘A’ player in my opinion.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com.