Kent State football team looks to end November woes against Army

Lance Lysowski

The Kent State football team holds a 9-27 record in the month of November over the past 12 years.

The reason is simple: The Flashes’ starting quarterbacks rarely played in the final month of the season.

During the 2003 and 2004 seasons, former Kent State quarterback Josh Cribbs led the Flashes to a 5-1 record in November.

Kent State coach Doug Martin, whose teams account for six seasons of November struggles, said the team’s battle with injuries during the month prevented the Flashes from having a strong finish and used Cribbs as an example.

“Josh hardly ever got hurt, and when he did, he could play through it,” Martin said. “Last year we didn’t have Spencer in November. Several times we didn’t have (former quarterback Julian Edelman) in November.”

While Kent State’s loss to Temple on Saturday ended their chance of playing for the Mid-American Conference Championship on Dec. 3, the Flashes have a chance at bowl eligibility. For a team to become bowl eligible, they must win at least six games, but teams with seven wins are more likely to receive an invitation to a bowl game.

In 2006, Kent State traveled to Ball State with six wins to earn bowl eligibility.

The Flashes lost 30-6.

Kent State had the same opportunity last season with five wins and three games left to play.

The team couldn’t get it done.

Martin said the 2010 Flashes have the talent to play in a bowl game, but it’s up to the players if they’re going to become the first team in 37 years to reach the postseason.

“If we play like we’re capable of, we can be a bowl team,” Martin said. “If they want to be different then all of the other Kent State teams, then they have to go win these football games.”

Kent State will wrap up a three-game home slate on Saturday when the team hosts Army on Heroes’ Day, and the Flashes could be without the services of sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith.

For the second straight season, Keith was injured in a loss to Temple. The sophomore left Saturday’s game with thumb sprain on his throwing hand.

While Keith is practicing with a glove and a wrapped thumb, Martin said junior quarterback Giorgio Morgan and sophomore quarterback Sal Battles could split time on Saturday if Keith is unable to play.

“I think there’s some comfort for those guys if I can send them in with a play and maybe kind of coach them up for that play,” Martin said. “Instead of them being out there on their own, the whole time. We’re going to explore every opportunity and every option that we possibly have.”

As Temple’s size and strength posed matchup issues for Kent State on both sides of the ball on Saturday, Army’s unique style of play poses another problem.

On offense, the Black Knights run a very rare offensive scheme that uses multiple running backs and a quarterback with the ability to fake the handoff and carry the ball up midfield.

Army, which ranks as the eighth best rushing offense in the nation, has four players who have accounted for more than 300 rushing yards this season. Sophomore fullback Jared Hassin leads the team with 783 yards and eight touchdowns, while Black Knights sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman has rushed for 559 yards and nine touchdowns.

Martin said the challenge of preparing for Army is simulating the rare formations they use on both offense and defense.

“They’re not a wishbone team,” Martin said. “They run the split back veer, which is even more rare than the wishbone, and they have a lot of things off of it that are really hard to defend. Getting able to show your defense the speed of that and those different blocking techniques and having somebody for the dive, the quarterback and the pitch is difficult.”

Army will bring it’s “Desert Swarm Defense” to Dix Stadium on Saturday, which ranks 24th in the nation. The defense includes using three-down linemen or two-down linemen and a stand linebacker to rush both guards and the center.

“You better bring all you got against these guys because these guys are trained to do exactly what they’re getting ready to do,” Martin said. “They’re playing to be bowl eligible. This is a huge game for Army, but it’s really not even about Army. It’s about our guys, and if they want to come out and play like they’re capable of playing like they did, the two previous weeks, they can win football games.”

Following Kent State’s loss to Temple, Martin was asked of his players’ character during the game. As the Owls’ sideline included players singing with arms locked in unison, the Flashes’ sideline included players bundled up in parkas and huddled around the heaters by the team’s benches.

Martin defended his players but said it will be the last time this season he does so.

Senior safety Dan Hartman said Martin is counting on the Flashes to be ready to play for the remainder of the season, and it’s his responsibility as a senior to prepare his teammates for what’s to come.

“I take that as a character check,” Hartman said. “He’s basically putting it on us for this week to get everybody prepared — coming off a loss like that — and to go out and beat Army. People are going to get exposed, whether they want to play or not. ”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].