Defense dominates offense at scrimmage

Joe Harrington

Linebackers help force 11 sacks of quarterbacks

The Kent State football team finished its second spring scrimmage Saturday at Dix Stadium, and it’s apparent that a trend is developing.

For the second week in a row, the defense gave a glimpse of what it could be in 2008. The squad recorded 11 sacks, including 3.5 by junior linebacker Kevin Hogan, and forced two fumbles.

Hogan started every game last season for the Flashes and managed only five sacks in his sophomore year. This spring, Hogan has quietly (thanks to sophomore Monte Simmons, who lines up on the other side of him) had some impressive performances. The hybrid linebacker-defensive end has brutalized offensive lineman nearly every day in practice, and teams can expect to see Hogan everywhere in 2008.

“He’s an (defensive) end,” defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis said. “A lot of people describe our scheme as a 3-4, which is fine, those guys have to be a hybrid. It’s kind of a paradox: Are you going to rush Kevin Hogan, which he’s good at doing, or are you going to drop him (into pass coverage), which he can do?”

Rekstis said most hybrid players want to be considered linebackers, but should think twice before making that claim.

“They have to understand that every time they drop, they give up a chance to sack the quarterback, so it might be better to be seen as a defensive end,” Rekstis said.

Along with Hogan, Simmons had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks, and sophomore safety Brian Lainhart finished with six tackles and two sacks. So is the defense the strength of the Flashes?

“I wouldn’t say any group is necessarily the strength of the team,” Hogan said. “As far as defense goes, you need every group to play as a unit and each group has to be a part of each other.”

Although it’s clear that the defense won on Saturday, the offense continued to improve, Kent State coach Doug Martin said.

“The best thing I saw today was a lack of turnovers,” Martin said.

The Flashes’ 26 turnovers helped them finish second to last in turnover margin in 2007.

“I really challenged our offense to not beat themselves, and I was pleased with how they responded,” Martin said. “I really like the level of competitiveness right now and the enthusiasm everyone is playing with.”

Sophomore quarterback Giorgio Morgan completed 13-of-24 passes with 152 yards and two touchdown throws, while playing mostly with the second team. The Atlanta native missed the first scrimmage of the spring after arriving late.

“I thought Giorgio Morgan stepped up and made a few nice plays today,” Martin said. “He threw a couple of touchdown passes that were nice under pressure. He just has to get more reps and learn how to play under fire.”

Senior quarterback Julian Edelman, who played with the first team, completed 6-of-11 passes for 86 yards, including a 47 yard pass on third down.

“Julian is getting healthy again and he is making plays. We limited him from running, so that kind of takes his game away,” Martin said. “He threw a couple of nice passes and created some explosion plays.”

Junior running back Eugene Jarvis only ran nine times for 42 yards, as coaches continue to limit the All-Mid-American Conference running back. Along with Jarvis, senior Jameson Konz, a converted tight end who started every game at linebacker for Kent State in 2007, caught three passes for 42 yards.

Sophomores Alan Vanderink and Jonathan Simpson each caught touchdown passes for the only scores of the day.

With the defense winning the first two scrimmages, the Flashes conclude spring April 19 at Dix Stadium with nearly no questions on defense, but plenty on offense. At this point, Kent State fans may not have those answers till late Summer, when the Flashes play Boston College on Aug. 30 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

“As a coach, if the defense does good you go home thinking ‘the offense really struggled,'” Martin said. “If the offense does well, you go home thinking ‘the defense really struggled.’ It’s somewhere in between.”

Contact assistant sports editor Joe Harrington [email protected].