If Saturday’s 16-7 loss to rival University of Akron officially signifies rock bottom for the Kent State football team this season, then there’s nowhere to go but up.
The problem is, with a much-needed bye week that didn’t arrive until Week 11, and with just two more regular-season games to go against winless Miami and East Division contender Ohio, even a week to regroup might not be enough to get players healthy and raise spirits in order to rescue a disappointing 2013 season.
Led by a rookie coach, it was going to be tough to match last year’s wildly successful 11-3 season that ended with the Golden Flashes making their first bowl game appearance in 40 years.
And a schedule that included back-to-back games at LSU and Penn State, followed by three games in four weeks against top Mid-American Conference programs Northern Illinois, Ball State and Buffalo, did the Flashes (2-8, 1-5 MAC) no favors.
With the schedule stacked against them, the Flashes, who have absorbed their share of injuries to starters, were in need of a bye week several weeks ago, if not a month ago.
“It’s a much-needed break for us, the first of the year we’ve had to get some guys healthy,” KSU coach Paul Haynes said. “A lot of times during these bye weeks you kind of look at what you’re doing, what you can change and what you can do differently. Unfortunately for us, we only have two games left to do those things with our bye week coming so late in the season.”
So this week Haynes said he and his staff will spend time with the group of newcomers and young players who’ve had to step into starting roles earlier than expected with so many injuries to players at key positions.
“Nate Holley made his first career start at safety as a true freshman,” Haynes said. “Terrence Waugh also played as a true freshman, getting 20 reps [at defensive end]. So, while we can’t do anything major with this week off, we will try to get these young kids better.”
Holley, from Toledo Whitmer High School, had a strong showing against the Zips. He tied for second on the team with six tackles, including 1.5 for loss and broke up a pass.
“It was fun to be out there again, it felt like forever to get out and get some defensive snaps,” said Holley, who has played on special teams most of the season. “But I tried to make the most of my opportunity.”
“Nate had a great game,” Haynes said. “He was our second-leading tackler and almost came up with an interception in the red zone for us. He’s a warrior, he’s a winner and he’s going to be a good football player for us. Terrence brings us something on third-down situations with his pass rush. So, both of those guys are going to be good football players for us down the road in the future.”
Flashes senior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix was named the MAC East Division Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in Saturday’s game. A Reynoldsburg native, Nix forced a fumble, had two sacks, three tackles for loss and four solo tackles against Akron.
He moved into second place among the Flashes’ career sack leaders with 23.5. Nix now has 62.5 tackles for a loss and 11 forced fumbles.
“Rosie’s a very good football player who has a lot of good instincts,” Haynes said. “In a game, there’s a lot of times he knows what’s going on before it happens. I think that’s what gives him a jump on a lot of plays when you see him in the backfield so many times.”
Akron’s 304 total yards in Saturday’s game were the fewest yards allowed by the KSU defense since the season opener against Liberty Aug. 29.
Hold on tight
After committing five turnovers against Akron, the Flashes will get back to the basics when it comes to holding on to the ball.
“We talk about it all the time, that the ball is the program,” Haynes said. “So, when you have the ball in your hands, you have the program in your hands. It’s tough to win football games when you turn it over five times. And in a game that was so close, you cannot do it. It’s something we’ve stressed and have to continue to stress and get into their heads.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.