KENT: When Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon jogs onto the field at InfoCision Stadium this afternoon to lead the Golden Flashes against the University of Akron, the freshman could be facing the toughest test of his young collegiate career.
Reardon will not only experience the rivalry for the first time as a participant (he watched from the sideline while being redshirted last season), but also he is going against a Zips defense that features two senior defensive ends, who could make the game a nightmare.
The Zips’ Albert Presley, a 6-foot-2, 223-pound transfer from Dean College (Mass.), has 29 tackles (including a team-high-tying 6.5 tackles for loss), 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
In addition, C.J. James returns to the field after missing the Zips’ past four games because of an NCAA eligibility issue. Yet, James, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound transfer from Colorado State, has 3.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and is coming off a three-sack effort before missing time.
Although Reardon, a former Poland Seminary High School standout, had played surprisingly steady for having so little collegiate experience through the Flashes’ first seven games, (he missed the Oct. 19 game at South Alabama with an ankle injury suffered in the closing minutes of KSU’s near-upset at Ball State the previous week), last Saturday was the first time he played like an inexperienced freshman.
In Kent State’s 41-21 loss to visiting Buffalo, Reardon threw for a career-high 260 yards. Yet, the aggressive Bulls defense, led by senior Khalil Mack, the Mid-American Conference’s top linebacker, forced Reardon into his first two-interception game. Both turnovers led to Buffalo touchdowns.
Kent State coach Paul Haynes chalked up Reardon’s rare subpar outing to him being due for a rough game eventually.
“He had a freshman moment,” Haynes said. “But I have no doubt Colin will bounce back.”
Being a big student of the game, Reardon approached offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Rock after each interception on the sideline to discuss what happened.
“Colin sees the field incredibly well and he immediately knew the mistakes he made,” Rock said. “… I always start [the conversation on the sideline] with the question ‘Why did you do this?’ He always has an answer. Many times, he’s right on. He understands the game and the structure [of an opponent’s defense] very, very well.”
In order to take the next step forward and help lead Kent State (2-7, 1-4 in MAC) to its fourth consecutive Wagon Wheel victory over UA (2-7, 1-4), Rock wants Reardon to become a more aggressive decision maker.
“When his main target is covered, he has a tendency to hold on to the ball,” Rock said. “When his first option is covered, he needs to eliminate that guy and move on to the next read a little bit quicker.
“But that’s going to come with development because there’s no substitute for experience. Colin has such a thirst for knowledge and a thirst for the game, we can work with that.”
If the prospect of playing UA and facing the Zips fierce defensive ends were weighing on Reardon’s mind earlier in the week, it was impossible to tell.
“If you win [the Wagon Wheel], you have a step on Akron the whole year,” he said. “That’s all I think about.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. 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.