FRESHMAN QB’s – One of the interesting subplots to the Kent State vs. Akron game this season are the two true freshman quarterbacks both sides will be starting. Kent State has Spencer Keith at the helm while Akron was forced to turn to Patrick Nicely three weeks ago against Ohio.
Kent State’s Keith has stepped into the starting role for the Flashes and been solid. Keith has completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 1, 538 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Kent State coach Doug Martin continues to remark on Keith’s impressive mental capacity for the game and his calm demeanor.
“He’s really bright," Martin said. "He’s a 4.0 student. He’s really got a great mind for the game too. A lot of young players, especially when you call plays, they just go out and run them. Spencer has an understanding of why you’re calling that play. He’s really got a remarkable presence about him. He’s really calm, he doesn’t get frustrated and has got a great presence in the huddle.”
After leading the country in passing yards (5,310) at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas last season, Kent State appears to have hit a home run in recruiting. “His plans were to go to an Ivy League school to begin with,” Martin said. “Coach Vance, our recruiting coordinator, did a great job finding him. I think it came down to us and Vanderbilt were the two that brought him in for visits and we were just fortunate to have a scholarship left.”
As for both teams having to turn to freshman quarterbacks this season Martin said, “We both have been kind of forced into that hand. We had the injuries with Giorgio Morgan and they’ve had the injuries at quarterback.”
As for Akron, Nicely was pressed into duty against Ohio on October 10, when Matt Rodgers went down with a season ending knee injury. Earlier in the season, Chris Jacquemain was dismissed from the team.
Since taking over, Nicely has completed 53-109 passes for 613 yards, one TD and two interceptions. The Willoughby South product had a very accomplished career in high school while being selected to play in ‘The Big 33 All-Star Game’ in Pennsylvania. He was rated the number one overall quarterback in the state by OhioVarsity.com.
“Nicely is a really quality quarterback,” Martin said. “I remember when he was coming out in high school, he was recruited by a lot of BCS schools, Boston College, and a lot of schools really wanted that young man. He’s gotten better every single week.”
Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart weighed in on both teams starting freshman quarterbacks in this rivalry game. “I’m sure it’s not the ideal situation for either of us. You always want a veteran in there. They’re talented kids, and you see them making progress each week. It’s a pretty unusual situation, I’d say.”
Both Martin and Brookhart would have preferred to redshirt their freshman signal callers, but they will square off Saturday at the new InfoCision Stadium. The Keith – Nicely matchup has the potential to be a fun rivalry to watch for the next four seasons.
BAYLOR, THE TURNING POINT? – Many fans and media have discussed and wondered what the turning point of the season has been for Kent State. The turning point that has surged them to a three game winning streak, with bowl game and MAC Title aspirations. While many think it was the Bowling Green game, Martin said it came before that. “Our game against Baylor, I really started to see us start to come on,” Martin said. “We played really hard defensively in that game. We started to really move the ball offensively. From that time, I’ve just sensed that we’ve been a different team.” In the 31-15 loss to the Bears, Kent State out gained Baylor 424-374. The Golden Flashes missed out by going 0-3 in the red zone at Floyd Casey Stadium.
OVERLOOKING AKRON? – Martin was asked during the MAC teleconference if his team would be overlooking Akron, with a 1-7, 0-4 MAC record, riding a six game losing streak. “I don’t think that’s any problem for us,” he said. “We haven’t had very much success against Akron over the years here. If our guys are thinking it’s going to be anything other than a nail-biter and a game down to the last play, they’re crazy. All you’ve got to do is look at the past history. I don’t think that will be a problem at all.” Akron has defeated Kent State the past two seasons and 10 of the last 12 overall.
SPOILERS – From Akron’s perspective, the perception (and perhaps the reality) is that the Zips will try to salvage their disaster of a season with a big win over their arch rival, and also try and keep the Flashes from winning an East title and going to a bowl game. “This is a big game,” Brookhartsaid. “Every year this is one we point to. It means a lot to both sides. It’s a year long source of pride.”
NO BROTHERLY LOVE SATURDAY – Kent State redshirt freshman defensive back Leon Green will be squaring off against his brother on Saturday. Marvase Byrd is a redshirt freshman defensive back for the Zips. Green has played in eight of KSU’s nine games with three tackles and a fumble recovery. Byrd has played in eight games, including a start at Syracuse. He has 11 tackles, while also playing on special teams. Green and Byrd attended different high schools in the Pittsburgh area. Both are cousins to former NFL Pro Bowl running back Curtis Martin.
BELIEVE IT OR NOT – Kent State’s Martin and Akron’s Brookhart are the two longest tenured coaches in the Mid-American Conference. Both are in their sixth seasons. Martin is 24-43 and 17-28 in the MAC during his KSU career. Brookhart is 28-40 and 20-24 in the MAC while leading the Zips to the 2005 MAC championship. Martin is 1-4 against Brookhart and the Zips.
SERIES NOTES – This will be the 52nd all-time meeting between the two schools and the 39th time that the Wagon Wheel will be up for grabs. Kent State leads 19-18-1. KSU didn’t pick up a win in the series until the 13th game was played in 1942. After that stretch, Kent State won 10 straight games from 1942 to 1954. Since 1975, Akron has won 17 of 26 meetings. Kent State has not won in Akron since 2003.
Tommy Pizzurro, a 6-3 300 pound offensive lineman from Hargrave Military Academy has reportedly committed to Kent State.
Kent State comes in at #5 in The MAC Daily Power Rankings.