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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
A lesson on priorities will serve the Kent State football team well heading into today's battle with visiting Monmouth.
While outsiders have basically written the Golden Flashes off following last week's 39-36 four-overtime loss to FCS opponent North Carolina A&T at Dix Stadium, six days between games have given the players and coaches a chance to refocus on what they were really looking to get accomplished during their four non-conference matchups to start the 2016 season.
"Any time you get humbled like that, you always re-focus a little," said fourth-year KSU coach Paul Haynes.
Obviously, winning was, is and always will be first and foremost. The Flashes (0-2) desperately need a victory against the unbeaten Hawks (2-0), another FCS entry, to avoid going into next week's matchup at No. 1 Alabama winless.
But any chances of success over the long haul this season in a Mid-American Conference East Division chock-full of vulnerable squads hinges on Kent State's ability to identify and develop a quarterback, which was priority 1-A heading into the non-conference season.
Redshirt freshman Mylik Mitchell has emerged as the man behind center for the '16 Flashes -- in part due to an injury to true freshman Justin Agner in the season opener at Penn State that has him sidelined indefinitely, but also due to his own productivity.
Mitchell has made some big plays with both his arm and legs during the first two games of the season. After showing some ability in a relief role against the Nittany Lions, the 6-foot-3 lefty from Cleveland John Hay threw three touchdown passes in his first career start against the Aggies.
On the season Mitchell has completed 23-of-44 tosses for 247 yards and three scores with just one interception. He's also rushed for 102 yards, although negative yardage from seven sacks he's taken drops his total to 36 net yards rushing.
Mitchell has shown some nice touch on throws down field, and some athleticism while evading pass rushers and making something out of nothing on several occasions. But like virtually every other freshman who has ever played quarterback, consistency has been an issue for Mitchell. He's missed some throws, evacuated the pocket too quickly at times, and pulled up instead of finishing off runs downfield.
Haynes eluded to these and other inconsistencies when asked about Mitchell's play thus far earlier this week.
"Some good, some bad," said Haynes of Mitchell's effort against North Carolina A&T. "There were some reads that he missed. Those are the things that we've got to make sure we get cleaned up and solidify. But he also made some plays and kept some drives alive. (The Aggies) did a lot of movement on us, which created some havoc. They brought two and three off the edge at times, brought more than we could block. That goes back to some of the (quarterback) reads. Sometimes you've just got to dump it off. Especially with our run-pass options, we've got to throw it (when they overload). Those are things our young quarterback will get better at.
"As a young and athletic quarterback, sometimes you want to run a little bit before you go through your reads. We've just got to get him to not have happy feet all the time and just sit in there, go through the progression, and let the play come to him. Hopefully that will come here soon. I think every rep he gets, ever game he plays, he will get better. That's the plan."
Before the season started, Haynes said his squad needed to make a "major improvement" offensively after ranking last in the nation in scoring (13.1 ppg) and next-to-last in total yards (273.3 ypg).
"We can get better and still lose," he said.
So far that's exactly what has happened, at best.
The Flashes are averaging 277 yards per game, which includes four overtimes, and have scored just 30 of their 49 points in regulation. One of their three touchdowns in regulation was scored by the defense, and another was set up by a fumble recovery that gave them the ball at the NC A&T 8-yard line.
To make the major offensive jump necessary to compete in the offensive-minded MAC, the Flashes need a consistent threat at quarterback. Mitchell must deliver beginning today, when Kent State will have an opportunity to break out against an FCS foe in Monmouth that's solid but not nearly as talented as NC A&T.
"This is the most important game on our schedule right now," said Haynes. "We've got to make sure that we're focused like crazy to go out there and execute and do the things we need to do to win."