KENT: For those who doubt Kent State football coach Darrell Hazell and his staff’s ability to quickly turn around the fortunes of the football program, look no further than Towson for an example.
Contrary to popular belief, rebuilding doesn’t have to be a lengthy process.
Consider the case of the Tigers, who a year after finishing the 2010 season with a 1-10 record in the Football Championship Subdivision, were one of the most improved teams in college football.
Towson, which will visit KSU in the season opener tonight, was 9-3 last season and won the Colonial Athletic Association title.
“That’s an impressive turnaround by coach Rob Ambrose and his staff,” Hazell said.
It’s a turnaround Hazell is seeking at KSU. The Golden Flashes were 5-7 last season, Hazell’s first at KSU. That turnaround might have started last year when the Flashes won four of their last five games after a 1-6 start.
It helps that what Hazell sees on the Towson film is a lot of the same things he’s been preaching since arriving at KSU from Ohio State.
“Their [Towson] energy screams off the film,” Hazell said. “They have a tremendous amount of it, guys running around, patting each other on the back. They just feed off each other.”
The Tigers won’t slip under anyone’s radar this year – including Kent State’s.
“They have a very good quarterback who takes care of the ball,” Hazell said of senior Grant Enders, who led Towson to wins in nine of the 11 games he started last season, passing for 2,081 yards and 16 touchdowns. “I also thought their offensive line did a nice job last year and they were a bunch of sophomores who are now even better as juniors.”
But what impressed Hazell the most on film was the play of sophomore running back Terrance West.
“He’s a 5-foot-11, 222-pounder who makes guys miss,” Hazell said. “He’s got top-end speed and is powerful.”
An FCS All-American, West set a Towson single-season record with 29 touchdowns last year as a freshman.
“[West] is a great athlete,” Flashes junior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix said. “I saw him on film and people missing tackles because he makes [defenders] miss. We definitely have to be prepared and keep an eye out for him throughout the game.”
Making the Towson offense even tougher to handle is that it employs a variation of schemes.
“They also have a lot of good players, guys who’ve transferred in from bigger schools,” Nix said. “They’re not a team you can just overlook to start the season.”
Stopping the Tigers is one key to a win for KSU, but the Golden Flashes must also prove their revamped offense is up for the challenge.
An improved Spencer Keith won a three-way battle to during preseason camp to keep his starting quarterback job, but doesn’t have his No. 1 target. Senior receiver Tyshon Goode is out with a hamstring injury.
The Flashes’ offensive line has also shown big improvements in camp, but it doesn’t have much depth.
There is a particular component of Towson’s defense that has Hazell a bit worried.
“I think they’re stout up front,” he said. “But where they really present some issues is in their back end. They have some very good defensive backs that do a nice job of disguising coverage. They’re always running to a different coverage on the snap. So we have to do a good job as the quarterback and receiver to make sure we’re seeing post-snap coverage so we don’t throw some balls into rolled-up coverage or guys rotating into a different zone.”
Ambrose seems to be just as taken with the Flashes’ defense, which again is expected to be the strength of the team.
“This is an extremely good defensive team,” said Ambrose, whose team is looking for its first season-opening road win since 2004. “They might have two NFL draft choices on that unit. In fact, this might be the best defensive team that Towson has ever played.”
Pro Football Hall of Famer Jack Lambert made his first return to Kent in more than a decade at an informal gathering of players from the Golden Flashes’ 1972 Mid-American Conference championship team at Ray’s Place on Wednesday night.
The team will be honored at tonight’s game at Dix Stadium.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at https://ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.