KENT: Just minutes after Darrell Hazell met with the media following Kent State’s 20-12 loss in its home opener to Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday night at Dix Stadium, the first-year head coach was approached by junior quarterback Spencer Keith.
Keith had just turned in perhaps his worst start in three seasons as the Flashes’ quarterback and wanted to apologize.
“He was very apologetic and said, ‘Coach, I’m not sure what happened,’ ” Hazell said Keith told him. “He was hurting. I’m sure he, just the like the rest of us, had a hard time sleeping Saturday night.”
After dropping their first two games to No. 2-ranked Alabama (48-7) and Louisiana-Lafayette, the Flashes are looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since the 2000 season. That’s not going to be an easy task with a trip to Kansas State coming up Saturday.
Before Kent State can even begin to worry about Kansas State, it must spend a majority of practice early this week fixing itself on offense, a point Hazell did not shy away from during Monday’s weekly news conference.
“I thought we played tremendous on defense,” he said. “I thought our special teams improved immensely from the first week. But obviously, we sputtered on offense and were not very productive.”
Hazell said the good news in moving forward is that the Flashes’ offensive struggles “are things that we can fix.”
First, Hazell and his coaching staff plan to pare down the decisions Keith has been responsible for at the line of scrimmage to make his job at the beginning of each play simpler.
“We need to take some of the pressure off of him,” Hazell said. “We went into [Saturday’s game] with a package where we were checking a lot of things. That’s where his mind was a lot of the times, standing up, looking around. So we’re going to call some plays and run some plays [this week] instead of checking everything.”
Also, Hazell said the team’s porous offensive line will be re-evaluated at practice this week and changes could be made.
“It’s very evident on film [what was wrong on the offensive line],” he said. “We had some miscommunications up front, which left some guys unblocked, which we can fix. And maybe [we have to] make a personnel change here or there.”
The reason Hazell pointed out both the poor play of the quarterback and the offensive line is that even when protection held up in front of Keith, he still missed a handful of short throws.
“A lot of those short-hop throws were not rushed throws,” Hazell said. “I think he just missed on five or six of those for whatever reason.”
In addition to working with Keith and repairing the offensive line this week, Hazell went out of his way after Sunday’s team meeting to make sure there were no hard feelings beginning to develop between the offensive and defensive units.
After Hazell took over for Doug Martin on Dec. 20, he said one of the first things he learned about the team he inherited was how much of a divide existed between the two groups.
So to keep the team together, Hazell said, he ended Sunday’s meeting after watching film by telling players on each side of the ball to give someone on the other side a hug.
“We have to make sure we stay together as a football team,” he said. “That was the biggest thing I had to convey to the team Sunday. We stay together no matter what and watch each other’s back.”
So far at least, the team still seems to be behind Keith.
“We love and support Spencer 100 percent,” said junior linebacker C.J. Malauulu, whose third-quarter pressure against the Louisiana quarterback in the end zone resulted in the Flashes’ first safety since October 2009 at Baylor.
Sophomore defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix left Saturday’s game late in the second quarter after aggravating his right big toe, which he dislocated in preseason practice.
“He felt he could not push off it at the time,” said Hazell, who believes that despite Nix wearing a walking boot during the week, he will play Saturday. “So this week, we’ll calm it down for the first two days [of practice] again and give him some reps Wednesday and Thursday.…It acts like a turf toe, so he’ll never have time [during the season] to fully recover from it. But we’ll get out of him what we can.”
Defensive back Calvin Tiggle suffered a concussion in Saturday’s game and will probably miss this week’s game.
Senior receiver Sam Kirkland was also hurt in the game and spent about five hours at the hospital afterward having his lungs checked. He took a hard hit that caused a fumble late in the game.