Hornets not to be overlooked

Joe Harrington

Division 1-AA opponent brings stingy defense, strong offense to Dix Stadium tomorrow

There will be a lot of firsts for Kent State football tomorrow.

The Flashes are playing their first home game, their first non-Bowl Championship Series team, their first time in their blue jerseys this season. It’s also the first time in school history Kent State will play Delaware State.

The Hornets are from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and play in the former Division 1-AA, now called the Football Championship Subdivision. In layman’s terms, Delaware State is a Division II school, but that doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly, and it doesn’t take a senior to realize that fact.

“What everybody thinks about I-AA is out the window,” freshman tight end Jon Simpson said. “They play hard and they’re going to come in and give it their best shot. The effort they give is remarkable.”

Simpson played in the first two games against Iowa State and Kentucky but failed to catch any passes thrown to him. The freshman backup to senior Tom Sitko has struggled in the first two games, coach Doug Martin is hoping Simpson’s continual improvement will gradually help the passing game.

For now, Simpson is just another freshman — Kent State plays four other true freshmen regularly — looking forward to impress the home crowd for the first time.

“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this my whole life,” Simpson said. “I’m real excited to show everybody what we can do.”

For Simpson and the offense to be successful against the Hornets, Kent State will have to protect the ball better. The offense has committed seven turnovers in two games, including three interceptions by junior quarterback Julian Edelman.

Despite losing to Kentucky 56-20 last week, the offense did manage to make big plays, running for 323 yards against the Wildcats. To continue to run the ball well, utilizing the zone blocking scheme that Simpson calls “the bread and butter of the offense,” the Flashes will have to contend with an aggressive Delaware State defense.

“We’re playing a very dangerous team,” Martin said. “I’m really impressed with their defensive front seven, they can get after you and bring a lot of blitzes.”

The Hornets are lead on defense by senior linebacker Russell Reeves, a player who Martin believes is one of the more aggressive linebackers the Flashes will play this season. Reeves was the leading tackler in 2006 and has 18 tackles and a sack in two games. Last week, the Hornets held Florida A&M to seven points and forced two turnovers. The Kent State defense could take some pointers.

Last week, the Flashes gave up 42 points in the second-half after playing a solid defensive first-half. One reason for the defensive meltdown against the Wildcats was the 22 missed tackles, which caused them to allow more than 200 yards on the ground.

Martin said the defense changed after senior Jack Williams was beat on the 51-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Williams is using the recent struggles as motivation for this week.

“We got to do what we didn’t do last week: Stop the run and we can’t give up the big play in the passing game. We got to tackle,” Williams said.

Delaware State has the weapons on offense to recreate another Appalachian State like upset. Appalachian State, a team also from the FCS, upset then No. 5 Michigan two weeks ago.

The Hornets’ junior quarterback Vashon Winton has started 22 of the last 23 games and so far has thrown four touchdowns and just one interception. The running game could also be trouble for the Flashes as Delaware State’s running back, Kareem Jones, has a 6.3 yards per carry average in the first two games.

Williams said this week has been one of the hardest week of practices all year, including training camp. Practices have started with a focus on tackling, what Williams referred to as “tackling circuits.”

“I don’t think anybody’s going to miss a tackle,” said Williams. “There’s going to 11 heads at the ball, how do you miss a tackle with 11 of your teammates at the ball?

The senior is on the same wavelength as his coach when he said the Flashes couldn’t lose two games in a row, a goal from the start of spring football practice.

“The history of Kent State is they don’t respond well after they’ve been beaten. They get a hangover and feel sorry for themselves for a week and lose another one,” said Martin. “That’s the challenge for our team: Are you going to be a different Kent State mentality then what’s been here before? Or are you going to respond the right way, the way a champion would to a loss.”

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].