Flashes prepare for Saturday’s matchup against No. 2 Alabama


Cornerback Josh Pleasant tackles wide receiver Matt Hurdle during preseason practice while being supervised by new head coach Darrell Hazell. The Flashes start out the 2011 season in Alabama Saturday, Sept. 3. Photo by Philip Botta

Lance Lysowski

Monday’s Press Conference

The screaming roar of almost 102,000 fans will fill the eardrums of the Kent State football team on Saturday.

As the team prepares to walk on the field, a loud bellow of cheers will erupt from the stadium as a sea of crimson and white will fill the stadium seats.

And when the crowd’s energy escalates at the sight of Alabama coach Nick Saban leading his team onto the field, most Kent State players will experience the loudest environment they have ever walked into.

While the team is warming up on their half of the field, they will look across the way at the Crimson Tide’s hulking and experienced offensive line, while Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson is projected to have a Heisman Trophy-caliber season.

To Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, picturing how the atmosphere will affect his players doesn’t worry him.

During the Flashes’ spring practices, loud crowd noise blared throughout the Kent State Field House. The coaching staff repeatedly told the players this is what they need to expect on Sept. 3.

The noise pierced spectator’s ear drums, but Hazell was not satisfied.

“It’s not quite loud enough,” Hazell said following a spring scrimmage.

With the season opener just days away, Hazell said the distractions won’t determine the game.

“It’s all about execution,” Hazell said. “It’s what it all comes down to. All those other things, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It matters how well we block and tackle and complete the ball and run the football. Don’t turn it over, play great defense, play excellent special teams and try to quiet the crowd as quickly as we can.”

For the Flashes to silence the screams of Bryant-Denny Stadium, they will need their quarterback to manage the huddle and keep the ball in the hands of their teammates.

Junior quarterback Spencer Keith, starting quarterback for the second consecutive season, has plenty of experience playing in front of hostile crowds.

Keith faced Boston College and Baylor on the road during his freshman season and led the Flashes against Boston College and Penn State in his sophomore campaign.

“I think it will help for the rest of the season because we’re not going to play anyone bigger than that or louder than that,” Keith said. “For the game, we just have to block everything out and stay between the lines and between the field and just focus on the plays and execute right.”

Unlike the Flashes’ tough road trip to Happy Valley, Pa., last season, Tuscaloosa’s climate makes things difficult.

Instead of playing on a breezy fall day, the Flashes will be dealing with humidity and heat that will wear them down. It is expected to reach a high of 103 degrees on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Hazell said alternating players during Saturday’s game is inevitable if Kent State has a chance to compete with the Crimson Tide.

“It’s going to be extremely hot down there,” Hazell said. “We’re not used to the heat. Unfortunately we had some unseasonable weather up here this fall, so we’re going to have to play a lot of guys early in the game to get into the fourth quarter.”

With the trip to Alabama drawing closer, the Flashes will work this week on studying film of the Crimson Tide and preparing for the start of the 2011 season.

While Hazell is beaming with confidence leading up to his coaching debut, he does not hide the fact that being nervous is inevitable in a game against Alabama.

“I’ll have some butterflies,” Hazell said. “If anyone on our sideline does not have butterflies, I’d be worried.”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].