Finding a Balance
One of the biggest challenges for Kent State during its season opener against Boston College Saturday night was creating offense against a defense that finished the 2007 season ranked second nationally against the run and 19th overall. That defense returned six starters and 11 lettermen. Three starters returned along the defensive line and the Eagles saw the return of senior linebacker Brian Toal, who sat out the 2007 season but had 180 career tackles in his first three years of action.
The Eagles' defense allowed just three opponents out of 14 to surpass 100 yards rushing last season. The Golden Flashes rushed for 126 yards on 36 carries.
"I was really proud of our offense," said Kent State head coach Doug Martin. "I thought we did a good job of staying as balanced as we possibly could and moving the ball, we had a hard time protecting; a real hard time protecting against their guys up the middle-two 320 pounds guys up the middle will give you fits. So, that was difficult."
While KSU quarterback Julian Edelman had little time to set his feet and look downfield, the senior completed 10 of 14 passes for 123 yards. Despite constant pressure, he was sacked just three teams in the game.
For the game, the Flashes went three and out on just two of their nine possessions.
"I really liked the way we moved the football," Martin said. "I think we have the chance to be a pretty good team offensively. I think we'll be much better than we were last year. Boston College is a reason for a lot of the problems we had offensively. We had a really hard time blocking them up front. They're the real deal in that front seven. They are going to pose problems for a lot of people."
Just How Good Were They?
Just how good was the Boston College defense? Ohio State good? That was a question posed to Edelman after the game Saturday night.
"I wouldn't necessarily say they were better (than Ohio State)," Edelman said. "The front four were probably bigger. It was different. Ohio State was probably more athletic, stronger, but (Ron Brace) and (B.J. Raji), they were 325-plus. It was hard for our guys to go out there and push those guys around. Our offensive line did a great job for what we had to do against those guys. (We) tried to mix it up and moved the pocket around. We executed the offense decently; we just didn't come up with a big play when we needed it."
Life after Ryan
One of the big question marks the Eagles faced heading into the 2008 season was in replacing quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year and now the starting quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.
Enter senior Chris Crane, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 220 yards in his career at Boston College. Saturday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Crane hit on 12 of 18 pass attempts for 106 yards, but he proved to be a capable ball carrier as he rushed for 47 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns.
"I think they did a great job offensively in really changing their schemes from Matt Ryan to do what Crane can do and make him an effective quarterback," Martin said. "They really do a nice job of moving him around and changing the running game up a bit from what they had last year, which we kind of new that was the direction they were headed, but they did a nice job with it."
After averaging 55.25 penalty yards per game last season, the Golden Flashes opened the 2008 season with just four penalties for 30 yards.
"I thought the penalty deal was outstanding," Martin said. "We had really minimal penalties compared to what we had last year. We had two false starts and maybe one holding call; that's a pretty good night. I didn't see us really killing ourselves with penalties like we did last year. I was really pleased with that."
Kent State did turn the ball over three times-two interceptions and one fumble, but the Eagles failed to convert any of the turnovers into points. The first interception came on third and 18 from the BC 47. Edelman was chased out of the pocket and launched the ball downfield where it was picked off by Wes Davis at the 18. Effectively, the interception turned into a punt.
"I threw two picks," Edelman said. "One was just like a third down and forever. I just kind of threw it away; it was like a punt. The second one the guy just made an outstanding play."
Edelman, a captain, noticed the difference in the team.
"The focus of the team is very good," he said. "I think we had one holding call, two false starts, I mean that's come a long way from last year but we need to get that to zero on both penalties."
The Flashes lost fumble came at the end of the game when true freshman punt returner Josh Pleasant tried to make a play. Boston College needed just two plays to run out the clock.
Speaking of Young Returners
Kent State's young kick returners-Pleasant and redshirt freshman Sam Kirkland-each had interesting debuts. Kirkland seemed to struggle at times fielding kickoffs, but showed an excellent burst with the ball in his hands. Pleasant couldn't duplicate his practice performance, where he couldn't be stopped on punt returns, and turned the ball over, but Martin is encouraged by what he saw.
"We're going to be fine," he said. "Josh Pleasant was in his first game; he's a true freshman. He's playing his first game and he had one fumble. He had a nice return on that one, he just didn't take care of the ball. He is electric back there, he can make people miss and he's going to be pretty good. I like what we did with the kickoff returns with Sam Kirkland. I think he gives us some speed back there we haven't had before."
If junior running back Eugene Jarvis hopes to end the season like he started it-as the nation's top returning rusher-he'll have some ground to make up. Jarvis carried 11 times for just 51 yards.
"That's just personnel," Martin said. "They were second in the nation against the run last year and they didn't lose anybody, in fact they gained two that were probably better than what they were playing with last year. They're pretty good."
Martin knew it would prove difficult to run against the Eagles, but he believes you "believe what you see," and what he saw on film was a Maryland team that rushed for 135 yards against the Eagles in a 42-35 win last season.
"When we looked at last year, Maryland was probably the team that played them the best offensively because Maryland was patient enough to keep running the ball and found a way to produce some running game," Martin said. "If you don't do that on them and they make you one dimensional, you're in for a long, long day. The reason we were able to move the ball a little bit is because we stayed with the running game."
Jarvis did add three catches for 44 yards to give him 95 yards of offense on the night.
Tucking the Ball
Was he afraid to throw the football? That was a question repeated over and over Saturday night as KSU quarterback Julian Edelman tucked the football and scrambled repeatedly rather than throwing the ball to what appeared to be open receivers downfield.
But credit Boston College's relentless pressure for Edleman's 16 carries and just 14 pass attempts.
"Guys, He didn't have very long to throw," Martin said. "If you were down there from my vantage point, I promise you it was hard for him to get his feet set to be able to see. We had a really hard time protecting the passer tonight and so, everybody else will too against them. We had some people open but you know, you've got to have time to throw it."
Early in the game, Martin adjusted the game plan to allow Edelman to create a moving pocket, but that didn't last long as the Eagles made an adjustment of their own.
"You can only move him out of the pocket so much before they catch on to that," Martin said.
Still, Martin was encouraged by the play of his senior quarterback.
"What Julian didn't do tonight that he did last year was force plays," Martin said. "He didn't throw into a crowd; he didn't lay the ball on the ground and all that type of stuff that he's done before. He played within the system; he put us in the right play, he made some nice checks at the line. I was really pleased with the way he played tonight. He played under control. If he'll do that we can be pretty good."
No Platoon System
Despite backup quarterback Anthony Magazu seeing plenty of action-as Martin said he would-there is no quarterback controversy at Kent State. Martin implemented his version of the platoon system to help starting quarterback Julian Edelman in two areas: to understand what is happening on the field and to keep him as healthy and fresh as possible.
"We did that for a couple reasons. No. 1, I wanted the opportunity to have Edelman come off the field and let me talk him through a series of what he was seeing out there and what's going on," Martin said. "I think that helped him and No. 2, when you play with a mobile quarterback like we do, he takes shots. Julian did a much better job tonight of not taking unnecessary hits. He ran out of bounds, he slid; he didn't take too many unnecessary shots. He needs to play like that all year."
The move also helps the backup quarterback gain real game experience and preparation should he be called into action later in the year.
" We need to make sure we've got a backup quarterback that can play," Martin said. "This week Anthony beat Giorgio Morgan out to be that guy. Next week it will be up for those two guys again and it may be Giorgio next week. But, we're going to keep playing that backup quarterback. I thought he did really well when he came in. He executed the offense well, didn't make mistakes. He had a couple good drives; he played well."
Edelman might prefer to be on the field, but he understands Martin's decision.
"It helped, I guess," he said. "I'd rather be in there and play, but it's coach's decision. I trust him. He's the man."
Speaking of Backups
Magazu wasn't the only backup to see extended playing time. Sophomore running back Andre Flowers also saw his share of minutes. He carried six times for 26 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards.
"Andre is the same situation as playing the second quarterback," Martin said. "Andre's going to play. He's going to come in the third series of every quarter, every third series he'll be in the game. Then if Eugene ever gets gassed we can put Andre in, we don't lose a whole lot. He's a good back."
Look for another running back to be added to the equation.
"The freshman back, we've got to start getting in the game little bit too, Jacquise Terry," Martin said. "He's another guy."
Martin said the depth of his team allows him to rotate players at the skill positions, a move he hopes pays dividends later in the year.
"I think what that will do on both ends, with the quarterback and the running back, if we can be healthy in November, we can have a real successful season," he said. "Our problem in the month of November we have not been a good football team over the last two years because we're never healthy. We've got enough depth to be able to keep our best players healthy if we use them appropriately and that's what were' going to do."
Leading the Pack
Senior linebacker Derek Burrell, a third-team all-Mid-American Conference selection, was in familiar territory Saturday night. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder posted a team-high 14 tackles.
"Derek played well," Martin said. "I thought our linebackers, and our whole defense, we didn't start off, we didn't tackle well at the beginning of the game. Part of that is in camp you don't tackle as much because you want to keep your team healthy. We didn't do as much live work here late in camp because we were healthy and wanted to get to this game that way."
Burrell also made an impact in other ways.
"He had great leadership on the field out there," Martin said. "He didn't let anybody panic when Boston College scored a couple of times. We held them to one touchdown the second half. That's not a bad outing against that group."
Where in the World is Jameson Konz?
After grabbing most of the headlines during the off-season, Jameson Konz caught just two passes for 12 yards. The linebacker turned tight end is the fastest and most athletic player on the team and could have been a major weapon against the Eagles, so what happened?
"Well, again, the issue tonight was more a talent issue than anything," Martin said. "Boston College is really strong and physical up front and they just overpowered us up front. So it was really hard for us to stretch the field. We didn't have time to get the ball deep, so we threw some things underneath to Jameson. But they did a nice job of tackling also. You've got to give them credit on that."
Edelman's first pass attempt went to Konz, who caught the ball with room to run, but Konz slipped and fell for a seven-yard gain.
Kent State missed on a first quarter trick play that would have set the Flashes up in the Eagles' red zone. Freshman Sal Battles lined up on the right side and after the snap of the ball he ran to his left where he took a pitch from Edelman. The Eagles defense bit on the play and moved forward to attack Battles, who threw a laser to classmate Sam Kirkland. The throw was strong, but a bit short and Kirkland attempted to catch the ball while falling backwards, instead the ball hit the turf and the Flashes eventually failed on a fourth and one attempt to give the ball back to the Eagles.
"We just dropped the ball," Martin said. "Sal Battles made a great play right there. He had a guy in his face and for him to go out as a true freshman and make that play right off the bat, was really good. That was a big play. If we make that catch, that would have given us a real shot there to get on the board early. It was called at the right time and executed well until the catch."
Boston College then traveled 55 yards in eight plays, capped by a 10-yard Crane touchdown run, to take a 7-0 lead.
Despite early projections that called for 15-20,000 fans to show up Saturday night, just 10,788 spectators saw Boston College's 21-0 victory.
"To be honest with you, I didn't even notice the crowd or what was here," Martin said. "I thought it was a great atmosphere. I know our players really enjoyed playing in this venue here. It was really fun being in a stadium like this and what crowd was there I thought was very into the game. They saw two pretty good football teams play. It is what it is. They were going to have the same team whether it was at Dix Stadium or here, it wasn't going to matter that much. We enjoyed being here."
Hard Work Pays Off
Kent State came out of week one with few injuries. Martin credits that to the hard work his players put in during the off-season.
"We really came out of this game in good shape," he said. "We really came out of this game with no serious injuries, which I can't remember the last time we said that after playing a team like this. I think part of that is our players did a great job with their off-season program. They've really committed themselves and they take care of themselves. They're an in-shape group."
Despite the season-opening loss-their fourth in five years under Martin-the Flashes have a bright future.
"I'm really pleased with the progress I saw on our football team," Martin said. "We're going to win a lot of football games; I really believe that. We're much better in the kicking game. Our punter, that was an Achilles heel for us. We were last in the nation in punting last year and I think tonight he averaged 43 yards a kick. That will serve us really well going down the line here."
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