If you're a member or supporter of the Kent State football program, your worst fear when facing a rigorous non-conference schedule to open the season is suffering key injuries.
The Golden Flashes' worst fear has been realized.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Mylik Mitchell suffered an injury to his right (non-throwing) wrist after being sacked late in the first half of last Saturday's battle at No. 1 Alabama. Mitchell's injury has not been officially diagnosed, but head coach Paul Haynes believes it's serious.
“We'll have to wait and see. He sees the doctors later this week. But it doesn't look good,” said Haynes, during his weekly press conference Monday morning at the M.A.C. Center.
Haynes was asked to elaborate on Mitchell's injury and how long he may be out.
“We're talking (possibly) the rest of the season,” he said. “It could be a broken wrist.”
Mitchell was swarmed by a group of Alabama pass rushers while trying to set up a screen late in the first half of Saturday's 48-0 loss in Tuscaloosa, and was sacked for a nine-yard loss.
“It's kind of strange the way it happened,” said Haynes. “Usually with a wrist you think you're putting your hand down to brace your fall (and get injured). That's initially what I thought. But the (Alabama defender) just landed right on (Mitchell's wrist). Based on where his wrist was and where the guy landed, it happened.”
Mitchell became the second KSU quarterback to suffer a major injury in the first four weeks of the season. True freshman Justin Agner, who started the 2016 opener at Penn State after battling Mitchell and redshirt sophomore George Bollas for the job during spring drills and preseason camp, was decked on the sideline by Nittany Lions 305-pound freshman tackle Robert Windsor late in the first quarter.
Agner returned to action at Penn State, but has not played since then and is out indefinitely.
“He took a hit (at Penn State), and he was banged up a little before that,” Haynes said recently. “He has a lot of little things that he just has to get fixed.”
With Mitchell and Agner sidelined, how does Haynes view his team's current quarterback situation following a 1-3 trip through the non-conference portion of the 2016 schedule?
“Not good. Not good,” he said. “We started with Agner and he's gone, now Mylik (is out). We'll move (senior Colin Reardon) back to quarterback and get him some reps (this week in practice), and we have Bollas. That's where we are. I feel good about the team. I don't like the injuries. We've killed ourselves injury-wise at really key positions in this four-week span. You always want to come out of these (non-conference) games healthy, and we didn't do that.
“But injuries are part of the game. Next man up and let's get ready to roll.”
Bollas, a former Aurora High School standout, started the final six games of last season for Kent State as a redshirt freshman. He led the Flashes to a 15-10 victory at UMass in his first collegiate start, but they were shutout three times and scored just 31 total points while dropping their last five contests of 2015.
Bollas nearly steered Kent State to a touchdown at Alabama, falling just inches short of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal scramble from the 7-yard line in the fourth quarter. He posted some solid numbers against the Crimson Tide, completing 4-of-8 passes for 71 yards and rushing three times for 26 yards in about a quarter and a half of action.
“George is a tough kid,” said Haynes. “George doesn't say a lot at all, he just goes out there and does his work. I think the players respect the heck out of him just because he works his tail off. That's part of being a (good) quarterback. He's battle-tested, and he always prepares like crazy to go out there and perform.”
Reardon started at quarterback for Kent State the past three years, but was demoted due to the team's offensive struggles in the first half of last season. He was switched to wide receiver last winter.
While the Flashes have played multiple quarterbacks in their first four games of 2016, partly due to injury and partly by design, Haynes did not guarantee that Reardon will see action at quarterback during this Saturday's Homecoming showdown with rival Akron (2-2).
Haynes said Kent State will switch things up somewhat offensively with Bollas at the controls.
“Mylik is more of a thrower, George is more of a runner. But we've got to keep it balanced and be able to throw the football,” said Haynes. “We've got to make sure that we call the throws that he can throw and don't put him in a bad situation from the calls that we give him.”
Another key injured player for the Flashes is junior cornerback Demetrius Monday, a First Team All-Mid-American Conference selection last season, who has missed the last two games after suffering an ankle injury in practice.
Kent State could certainly use Monday against Akron, which is averaging 40 points and 323 yards passing per contest.
“Hopefully we'll have Monday back (for the Zips game),” said Haynes. “He's still day-to-day as of right now.”
Despite the injuries, Haynes has confidence in the troops that will be able to take part in the MAC opener against rival Akron on Homecoming Saturday.
“Saturday at 3:30 p.m. the ball's going to be kicked off, and we're going to have guys out there who are going to play their tails off,” he said. “Our guys will be excited, and they'll be prepared.”