October 20, 2010

Keith still the best option under center

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Despite his struggles and inconsistencies in Kent State's first six
games, sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith remains the Golden Flashes
best option under center.

"It's a tough situation; that's why I don't have any
hair left," said head coach Doug Martin. "We're
just going to do what we think is best for the football team, that's
the biggest thing. Right now he's our best bet."

Keith, who replaced injured starter Giorgio Morgan last season, entered
the 2010 season as one of the Mid-American Conference's up-and-coming
stars. In 10 games last fall, Keith threw for 2,147 yards and 14 touchdowns
to 11 interceptions.

His passing yardage and touchdowns thrown set new school freshman records.

Things haven't gone as well this season.

Through six games, Keith has completed just 56.9-percent (111-195) of his
passes for 1,129 yards and five touchdowns to eight interceptions.

It's been his crucial mistakes--such as his interception in the
end zone that ended Kent State's comeback bid at Miami two weeks ago--that
really has hurt the Flashes.

"It's just the inconsistency is Spencer's problem," Martin
said. "At times he's playing really well and at times (he's)
just not getting it done."

According to Martin, Keith's biggest problem has playing outside of
the offense.

For instance, after completing 10-of-13 passes for 106 yards in the first
half at Toledo on Saturday, Keith hit on just 6-of-15 attempts for 39 yards
and threw an interception in the second half as the Rockets stormed back from
a 21-7 halftime deficit to win 34-21.

"The first half he looked as good as anybody in the conference," Martin
said. "The second half, early on, he did not stay in the offense the
same way. He was trying to make big throws when all he had to do was throw
it where he did in the first half and take what was there. At the end of the
game he came back and made some throws in that last two-minute drive to take
us down the field."

Because of Keith's struggles this season, the game plan was to get him
in a rhythm early by throwing a lot of high-percentage passes. That strategy
worked as Kent State used a power running game and Keith's pinpoint accuracy
on the shorter throws to build a two-score halftime lead on the road.

Things started to go badly when Keith tried to take advantage of some mismatches
he saw in the Toledo secondary.

"Our goal early in the game was to get him off to a fast start. We threw
a lot of short passes, a lot of wide receiver screens, to get him completions
and get him some confidence in throwing it," Martin said. "That
was really the plan in the second half too. He saw Toledo in man coverage a
couple of times and instead of taking the underneath route he tried to throw
it deep. You don't necessarily need to do that all the time. There are
times to do that. Obviously, you'd like to attack the man coverage like
that, but we're just doing it at inopportune times."

Martin said it's not just Keith making the mistakes.

"I've got to coach him better," he said. "That's
coaching too."

Keith certainly has been tested in practice. The Golden Flashes lead the MAC
in total defense, allowing just 302.8 yards per contest.

The plan to get Keith out of his slump is to continue to work him in practice
in game-like situations.

"All you can do is keep practicing and keep putting him in game situations
in practice," Martin said. "We make him go against our defense
a lot because we know they're pretty good. It's really little things.
It's not a major bust. It's just not staying in the offense more
than anything, trying to do too much. He needs to just take what's there.
We'll keep working at it."

While Martin has entertained the thought of replacing Keith with Morgan, past
experiences have kept him from making the switch.

Last fall, when Keith's season ended with a shoulder injury at Temple,
Morgan was reinserted into the starting lineup but struggled mightily.

"The danger in that is once you do it you may lose (Keith)," Martin
said. "If you remember, last year when that happened to Giorgio, Giorgio
didn't come back the same player. I know that feeling as a quarterback.
At the same time you've got to do what's best for your football
team, too. Right now we just think this is what's best for our football
team. We don't think Giorgio has closed that gap right now."

But, that doesn't mean Martin will hesitate in the future if Keith doesn't
show signs of improvement.

"There could come a time in this game coming up where we feel that we
have to do that," he said. "If we think that's what's
best for the team, we'll pull the trigger and do it. Spencer has proven
that he can make plays; he's proven he can win. He's doing it in
games; he's just got to do it at crucial times."

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