Extra Points: On a new season, the quarterback with the keys to the car and the Illini

Flashes quarterback Woody Barrett drops back for a pass during a drill before Kent State’s spring game on April 14, 2018. Barrett is entrenched in a three-way quarterback battle heading into the team’s season opener at Illinois. 

Henry Palattella

  1. 1. First off, I’d like to welcome you to Extra Points. The Kent State football team is in an interesting place this year in that the buzz and optimism surrounding the team is at the highest it’s been in my now three seasons covering the team, so I sat down with sports editor Ian Kreider, and we both decided that Extra Points was a necessary addition to our coverage of Kent State football.

    2. Now, don’t think that this means that Ian’s coverage of the team will go away either. The plan, as of now, is that Ian and I will attend (almost) every game, with Ian doing your traditional recap that will be both online and in the physical Kent Stater. Some iterations of Extra Points might only have 10 points, some might have 40; it’ll depend on the storylines surrounding the team. That being said, I hope you join me on the journey this season. It’s gearing up to be a fun one.

    3. At some point around 12 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, either Dustin Crum or Woody Barrett will come off the sideline to lead the Kent State offense against the Illinois defense. At practice Friday, new coach Sean Lewis said that’ll be the man leading the Flashes’ offense for the foreseeable future.

    4. “The guy who is the starter, the guy who comes out of the huddle first, is the guy who has the keys to the car to whip it on the weekend,” Lewis said.

    5. As of now, I’d place Barrett in the driver’s seat of Lewis’ car. Despite this, the fact that the quarterback competition has gone on this long has been interesting to say the least.

    6. Myself, like many others, assumed that Barrett committing to Kent State essentially squashed any quarterback competition. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, spent a redshirt season at Southeastern Conference powerhouse Auburn, left for Copiah-Lincoln Community College where he recorded 1,779 total yards and 14 touchdowns before finally landing at Kent. But it hasn’t been the cakewalk that was expected.

    7. At times, Barrett’s looked like the real deal during the practices I’ve been at. His football IQ is clearly high, and his quick release and natural intangibles will definitely cause some problems for Mid-American Conference defenses. And while I haven’t seen him uncork a deep ball yet, there’s a video of him throwing the ball 69 yards when he was at Auburn, which is very far.

    8. That being said, I’m still not convinced Barrett is *the* guy. Nothing I’ve seen from him in the Spring Game or limited practice time I’ve been at says “four-star recruit.” Has he looked like the best quarterback I’ve seen at Kent State since I’ve been here? Yes. But this is also the same school that had a guy who was essentially a running back behind center for what amounted to a full season.

    9. Crum is the wildcard in this scenario. He was part of the revolving door under center for the Flashes last year, playing in 10 games, only two of which were starts. He did most of his damage on the ground, finishing second on the team with 310 rushing yards.

    10. Crum’s elusiveness and ability to keep plays alive with his feet is no doubt alluring, especially considering the start of Kent State’s schedule. Three of the Flashes’ four nonconference games are away at “Power 5” programs, meaning there’s a good chance whoever’s behind center will spend a good part of the game running for their life.

    11. Barrett’s not a slouch when it comes to mobility either. He’s listed at 6 feet 2 inches, 236 punds on Kent State’s roster, which is bigger than any of the running backs. While he’s not the fleetest of foot, he’s still a freak athletically.

    12. Whatever decision is made, I don’t see Lewis and the coaching staff going down the same nonconference route that Paul Haynes did last year. After losing quarterbacks Justin Agner and Mylik Mitchell to season-ending injuries in 2016, Haynes elected to play it safe against Clemson last year, running the ball in 44 of the 49 plays the Flashes ran. Here’s their drive chart — bottom right ­— in the second half of that game. They also went 1-for-4 passing for one whopping yard. Yikes.

    13. Mylik Mitchell, who showed Flashes (pun intended) in 2016 before suffering season-ending injuries in both 2016 and 2017 was thought to be in the quarterback competition, but after the Spring Game, Lewis said Mitchell needed to “take care of business off the field before we can evaluate him on the field.”

    14. Another aspect that Lewis will have to consider when deciding his quarterback will be tempo. I haven’t seen Kent’s offense go into a full-blown huddle once during the Spring Game or practice, and they’ve run upward of 150 plays during their practices.15. It’s hard to tell whether the competition lasting this long is a testament to Crum playing his ass off to try to earn his spot or Barrett going through growing pains in his transition to Kent State. If I were to guess, I’d probably say it’s some combination of both. Regardless of the decision, Lewis has more than enough time to evaluate both options, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both see significant time this season, for whatever reason.

  1. 16. On the other side of the ball, the Fighting Illini have their guy. Former Nebraska and Virginia Tech quarterback AJ Bush will start the season under center for Illinois. Bush beat out incumbent Cam Thomas. Bush threw for 99 yards and a touchdown last year for the Hokies, while Thomas threw for 375 yards and five interceptions.

    17. If there’s a “Power 5” program that isn’t Kansas that Kent State had a chance at beating, it’d be Illinois. The Illini beat the Flashes, 52-3, in 2015, but both teams have changed drastically since then. Kent State didn’t renew Paul Haynes’ contract after last season, while Illinois fired then-head coach Bill Cubit and hired Lovie Smith.

    18. As of now, Vegas has Smith at 5-1 odds as the first coach to be fired this season, behind Paul Beaty, the coach of the one and only … Kansas Jayhawks.

    19. If there’s one thing Lewis has done in his time since taking over for the Flashes, it’s been changing the culture surrounding the team. Lewis and the Flashes are now in the #FlashFast era, a slogan you find on T-shirts, banners and wristbands across campus. Lewis also said the team will be wearing a different uniform combination in every game this season, as it plays into recruiting.

    20. “To be able to have the agreement and the partnership that we have with Under Armour to where every single week we’re going to have 14 different combinations is a very unique deal to have,” Lewis said.

    21. To use all 14 of their uniform combinations, the Flashes would need to play all 12 of their regular-season games, the MAC title game at Ford Field and then in a bowl game. Since he’s taken over, Lewis has talked about how his intention is to lead the Flashes to a bowl game this season, and while the task seems tall, he seems like the man for it.

    22. No matter how things go on Saturday, this season will be a compelling one for the Flashes, who could embark on a program-changing turnaround.

    23. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about something coach Lewis told me in February. I interviewed him for a feature I did for The Burr Magazine, and after the interview, I stuck around in his office for a little bit just to shoot the breeze.

    24. I forget the exact verbiage of what was said, but he essentially asked me if I thought things were different in regards to what students thought of Kent State football.

    25. “Different,” I remember saying. “People are excitedly tweeting about Kent State football in all caps. I don’t think I’ve seen that before.”

    26. That’s something that has rung true even more as we’ve gotten closer to the start of the season. More and more I’m hearing people talk about Kent State football in a tone I’ve never heard before — optimistic.

    We’ll find out if that optimism is justified. The Flashes will take on the Fighting Illini at 12 p.m. Eastern (11 a.m. Central) on Saturday. Talk to you then from Memorial Stadium.