April 12, 2008

Defense rules the day

Possibly the signs of things to come in August were on display for the Kent State football team's defense Saturday.

Getting into the pocket, forcing fumbles and just naturally creating havoc for the offense, the defense showed signs of being a strong unit for the Kent State football team in Saturday's scrimmage at Dix Stadium. The defense forced 11 sacks and blocked two field goals.

"We got some real playmakers on defense," coach Doug Martin said. "I think our two edge rushers, Monte Simmons and Kevin Hogan, are real special players.

"Our strength of our defense right now is our linebacking core."

The defense looks quick. The linebackers, sophomores Simmons and Brian Lainhart and Hogan, a junior, were the game's MVP. Whether it was shutting down Eugene Jarvis, except for a few big, long rushes, forcing the quarterbacks to rush throws or forcing 11 sacks on the day, the front seven from both the first and second team was dominant.

Hogan led the defense with three-and-a-half sacks, four tackles and a forced fumble. After the scrimmage, he said the entire first team defense played strong throughout the game.

"I wouldn't say any group is necessarily the strength of the team," he 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."

With the defense playing strong, the offense struggled early in the scrimmage. The ball was lined up at the offense's 35- yard line. But early on, every drive turned into second and long and third long, and neither the first nor the second team offense could get any momentum going.

Senior quarterback Julian Edelman seemed to handle the aggressive pass rush throughout. He seemed more confident in the pocket early. Playing with the first team offense, Edelman avoided the rush, scrambled around the pocket and threw his best pass of the day-a 47 yard bomb on third and long. Edelman, 6-11 for 86 yards, showed a lot of poise on the play.

"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."

Giorgio Morgan played with the second-team offense early and most of the day. He went 13-24 with 152 passing yards.
Morgan showed off his poise and strong arm most of the day. While facing the blitz, Morgan scrambled around the pocket and hit sophomore Derek McBryde for a 16-yard pass. It was one of the best passes of the day.

"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."

An hour and a half into the scrimmage, Morgan threw the first touchdown of the day, a 7- yard pass to sophomore running back Andre Flowers.

On his very next pass Morgan threw the only other touchdown of the day-a 17-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Alan Vanderink. It was the best throw of the day. A deep spiral thrown by Morgan that landed softly in Vanderink's hands behind the back of a defender.

"Coach Martin grabbed me and said the offense is going to feed off of you," Morgan said after the touchdown. "You have to stayed poised and know that the game isn't over until the last few seconds tick off the clock."

While neither quarterback stood out as number one, both played with poise throughout the scrimmage even with pressure in their faces all day long.

"Those guys have been under fire before and know how to play the game," Martin said.

The offense looked like it was repeating last season's biggest problem-cashing in from the red zone. When drills started with the ball inside the red zone, the offense couldn't convert for a touchdown. The defense in all its quickness got to the quarterback-whether it was Edelman or Morgan. The struggles didn't concern Martin.

"We held some things," he said. "Julian hardly ran the ball and we were rotating some young kids. We also didn't run the ball as much as we usually do because we wanted to work in some passing plays."

But 11 sacks, numerous holding penalties didn't concern the quarterback, who said this is still a learning experience for some players.

"We have a whole lot of young lineman," Morgan said. "Last year we didn't have that problem. A lot of these guys are just getting their first experience.

"It's a real transition from high school to college," he said. "You got to learn the speed of the game, you got to just learn how to use your head. They'll get better-we just have to learn from our mistakes."

And its coach said he couldn't leave the scrimmage happy about one unit or worried about another.

"It's a little bit skewed," Martin said. "As a coach, if the defense does good you go home thinking 'the offense really struggled,' if the offense does well, you go home thinking 'the defense really struggled.' It's somewhere in between."

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