Keith makes defensive decisions

Junior quarterback Spencer Keith throws a pass during practice yesterday August 30th at Dix Stadium. Photo by Philip Botta.

AJ Atkinson

Kent State junior quarterback Spencer Keith gets the call for the next play from the sidelines. Lined up behind his center, Keith scans the defense. He envisions the play in his head. “We need to switch plays,” he thinks to himself. Keith calls an audible and changes the play.

The 6-foot-3 starting quarterback received this responsibility to scan the defense and change the play if needed from Kent State coach Darrell Hazell and offensive coordinator Brian Rock. The intelligence to read the defense and think through situations is a natural advantage Keith has always possessed.

Keith’s second choice in deciding a college was Harvard.

Having a quarterback with the intelligence level to go to an Ivy League school like Harvard gives the Flashes a huge advantage.

“You have to make sure the package is a lot smaller for those guys who aren’t as intelligent,” Hazell said. “You have to narrow the package so that they don’t end up beating themselves, but you don’t have to do that with (Keith). Our package is wide open right now.”

Hazell said having Keith on the field also provides comfort for the coaches as well.

“Sometimes you make mistakes as a coach,” Hazell said. “Call the wrong formation or call the wrong play. He’ll get it fixed for us, which is nice to know we have that guy out in the field.”

The transition to this type of offense was not easy for Keith.

Saturday’s game vs. Alabama

The second-ranked Crimson Tide and fifth-ranked defense by USA TODAY will surely be a test on Keith’s composure. Keith leads the team Saturday to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for a 12:20 p.m. kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“It takes a really smart quarterback to run this offense,” Keith said. “It’s complex. It was tough this spring to get it all down.”

Hazell said the problem was not getting Keith to understand the offense, but how to translate what the coaches wanted to the field of play.

“He’s off the charts in terms of his knowledge for what we’re trying to do,” Hazell said. “I stand behind him in practice just to see how he’s seeing things. He’s seeing things just the way a coach would see them.”

Now entering his second year as Kent State’s full-time starting quarterback, Keith is running a new offense that puts more responsibility and requires more leadership from the quarterback than what has been expected from him in the past.

“I think last year they did respect me some,” Keith said. “I didn’t play to my potential last year. But I think I have gained that confidence and that leadership role throughout the summer.”

Hazell said he is surprised by how much Keith’s leadership has improved from just the spring up until now.

“He’s a naturally quiet guy,” Hazell said. “It’s hard for guys like that to be leaders. But now he’s stepped into that role and realized it. He’s in the huddle and you can hear him say, ‘Hey, we need to get going.’ He’s a lot more confident in his leadership skills. I like where he is.”

Senior wide receiver Sam Kirkland acknowledged Keith’s vocal leadership has improved, but Kirkland said leading by example is still Keith’s strength.

“I remember when he came in as a freshman, he learned our whole offense in the summer,” Kirkland said. “He knew it a lot better than some of the guys who had been here two and three years. That just shows his work ethic and dedication to it. And that helps us. If he knows what he’s doing then he’s able to help others.”

And when Keith changes the play and the new play fails, Hazell said everyone understands.

“Our guys have the utmost confidence in him,” Hazell said. “Is he going to be perfect? No. Do they understand that? Yes. Are they perfect? No. They have confidence in him. They know he’s their leader. We will go how he goes.”

Contact AJ Atkinson at [email protected].