Walk the line

Lance Lysowski

Football is a game of Xs and Os. It’s black and white. If one player fails to do his job, it affects the outcome of the game. That can be said about both sides of the ball.

Kent State is still trying to find balance on offense and defense.

On Sept. 18 at Penn State, sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith found himself struggling to walk that fine line between taking risks and holding back.

In the first quarter, Keith threw two interceptions into tight coverage while attempting to extend offensive drives.

This season, Keith has thrown five picks compared to four touchdowns, but the sophomore is not going to allow the mishaps to change his style of play.

“You don’t want to throw too many interceptions, but you have to be aggressive,” Keith said. “We’re going to play aggressive the rest of the season, and not worry too much about it. I’m just going to play my game and have no fears.”

The Flashes’ nine turnovers in three games has the coaching staff concerned, but Kent State coach Doug Martin said emphasizing the turnover problem to his players would scare them into playing conservative.

It could affect his coaches’ play calling — a run play on third down or sticks to a short passing scheme, for example.

“You start trying to call a game conservative, trying to call the game not to turn the ball over, instead of to score,” Martin said. “We all have to be in the same mindset there.”

The problem with finding middle ground between being conservative and aggressive does not end with Keith. The Flashes’ pass defense has allowed touchdowns of 48, 42, 31 and 23 yards this season.

On defense, playing too aggressive is much different. If a linebacker or defensive back bites on a play-action pass and breaks coverage, a wide receiver could be left wide open.

The result could go either way. The player looks like either the hero or the fool. Casual viewers of football tend to not catch the mistake, but coaches and teammates do.

If a player does not stick to his assignment and covers a different part of the field, it allows a wide receiver to find a hole in the defensive coverage.

“Being too aggressive on defense is what we say, trying to make plays that aren’t yours to make,” said Brian Lainhart, senior safety. “Trust the guy in front of you, trust the guy next to you. For me, playing the middle of the field, don’t come down and try to take somebody’s curl. That’s when it’s going to go over your head for a touchdown, like at Penn State.”

Football is all about communication. If a linebacker does not trust the player next to him, he will try to overcompensate, not following his assignment.

One of two things can occur: The linebacker gets lucky and the offense calls a run play to his side of the field, then he makes the tackle and looks good to the fans watching. Or, the linebacker bites on a play-fake and watches the quarterback make easy work of the defense.

Lainhart said defensive players trying to accomplish too much can cause the deep touchdown passes the Flashes have allowed this season.

“You have to find the right balance of things,” Lainhart said. “On defense, it’s just trusting the guy next to you. I have to trust (senior safety) Dan Hartman so I don’t need to creep over for the deep pass then they throw it over to my (half of the field). Know your role, and play your defense.”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].