Q: Can you talk about Woody Barrett?
HP: He’s quarterback one. For the first time in so long — two years ago they had to start a running back at quarterback — now they have a guy. He doesn’t have much, especially weapon-wise, because of what (ex-head coach Paul) Haynes had. A lot of his wide receivers are smaller or undersized or what you want from traditional wide receivers. His ability, especially against (Mid-American Conference) defenses, to make plays and extend plays. When he first came on I was like, “This is the guy Auburn had?” But he’s had some flashes that have amazed me and have amazed a lot of people.
Q: He’s seemed to have energized the unit. Another guy that has kind of energized them is Sean Lewis. What has he brought to the program energy-wise, play calling-wise, defensive-wise? What has Sean Lewis been able to bring to the program that maybe Paul Haynes just couldn’t?
HP: He’s so much more open. With Haynes, he was very stuck in his ways. You could write a postgame press conference before he did it. He was just going to say the same things. Lewis has been very open. He talks about every decision he makes; sometimes he still has that stubbornness. Last week, they had 17 penalties, and a bunch of them were on ineligible receivers downfield, and he said they’re not going to change the way they play because of playing ‘Flash Fast’ and playing energetic. So, he stands by what he wants. It seems like all the guys love him. He’s so active on social media. As you’ll find out, he talks super fast. You can tell he cares; he just wasn’t given the best situation. I don’t know if any coach coming in would be able to do what he had. They definitely still need to work on their second half. It’s just different. It’s not very articulate, but there’s a tangible difference in how the team is functioning and operating compared to under Haynes.
Q: This team has now had to play Penn State and Ole Miss and got gashed by both offenses. This defense, on paper, looks terrible. But in reality, what is this defense right now?
HP: They are better than what they’ve looked. The secondary — a lot of the defense is Haynes’ guys, he was a defensive coach, he played cornerback — Jamal Parker, Elvis Hynes, they make plays. They are stars in the secondary. The thing is, their offense plays so fast with the hurry-up. Sometimes, three-and-outs can be 15 seconds of game time, so like five minutes real time. So they just have to keep going on the field and going on the field. They sustain long drives, but if they don’t with the way they play, the defense goes on for so long. Most of those games, they were close at halftime. But the offense kept stalling. I don’t know if people get a read on the offense or they lose focus from not being able to play, but they come in and have those rough second halves because it’s so tough for them to get off the field. That’s the dual-side coin of playing fast: the opposing defense (is) off-balance, but if you can’t get stuff going, three-and-outs happen quickly and the defense is back on the field.
Q: I think that similar to what Ohio had issues with — Ohio plays so fast. I think with Kent, they’ve taken a liking to that “Flash Fast” mantra. How true is that? You just talked about it with the offense, but does everything look faster than it had been?
HP: Even going into the spring game, because it wasn’t much of a game, more of a glorified practice. The practices were just much more intense. I was talking to one of the players, and when they would lose, it was kind of complacency. But even when they lost to Penn State — and so much has happened since then — players were genuinely upset. They came in expecting to win that game against a team that, at that point, was ranked in the top 10. And I don’t know if that’s what happened under Haynes, because against Clemson, he legitimately ran halfback dives the whole time and was fine getting out of there losing. Everyone appears to have bought in, but it’s social media and even though it happens behind the scenes, it’s tough to tell, especially if the losses keep mounting in conference play. But he had 12 uniform combinations, that’s because of all the regular season, and then the MAC Championship, and then a bowl game. He has been talking about playing in a bowl game since his press conference, and that’s the first time anyone has mentioned Kent in that capacity since Dri Archer was here. It seems like he’s gotten guys to buy in, so once the rubber starts hitting the road, we’ll see if that changes.
Q: It seems like every time I log on to Twitter, they have a different helmet or something. Is that something he’s doing where he’s trying to change the brand of Kent State? It used to be like, “It’s just Kent State.” But now it’s, “Look at what Kent State is wearing this weekend.”
HP: He said that. They’re doing it specifically for recruiting. Above the player’s helmets, it has their area code where they’re from. He says it’s for recruiting. Guys want to be flashy, guys see all these uniforms, they see all this stuff, they want to go to a school where they’ll have, I guess, swag or something, this stuff that’s different. He’s bought into that; he’s credited Under Armour for it. I haven’t been a fan of all the uniform combinations, but it’s cool to go out there and know you’ll see something different. In college football, you can do that. It’s one of the things he’s been able to do. It’s emblematic of him. He doesn’t want to talk about how he’s the youngest coach in the (Football Bowl Subdivision), but he is. He’s not an old guy that wants to do things a certain way. He gets that things are different, times are changing. Especially in college football. He’s done that and ran with it.
Q: How refreshing is that for Kent State? Not just for the team, but the entire fanbase, for the students, for everything?
HP: People have bought in, but it’s tough — they’ve played one home game. From August to October, they played one home game and it was against Howard. So this is their second home game, so I think that’s been tough, and it’s been tough for me, too. I haven’t gone to all the games — I’ve watched them all but haven’t gone. I can see how it would be tough for the players and traveling all the time, because you want to play in front of your fans. I think a win on Saturday, it would go a long way toward building on that momentum, because they’ve had it with him, they’ve had it with the showing against Illinois and stuff. The big loss to Ball State didn’t help. If they could beat OU and ... are in MAC play, and people are getting more hyped up — it is the 100th Homecoming this week, so there’s going to be a ton of people there. I think it would be a huge momentum burst. There’s definitely more hype around the team than there has been since I’ve been here.
Q: I didn’t quite realize that this was that big for them.
HP: This is the 100th Homecoming. They’re doing a ton of stuff. They’re going to do some stuff for football, but this is a big deal for the whole campus.
Q: Do you have a prediction for me?
HP: I think Kent wins 31-28 on a last-second field goal.