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Lancers quarterback presents dynamic challenge to Gaels
Posted: September 5th, 2013 @ 9:01pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Austin Kennedy is back - the real Austin Kennedy, that is, the one for whom great things were predicted two years ago, not the one who gamely limped through 2012 on heart and a bad knee.
Saturday, it will be the Queen's Golden Gaels' turn to deal with him.
"He's a very dynamic quarterback, a Doug Flutie-esque type of guy," Queen's coach Pat Sheahan said Thursday of the man on whom the Windsor Lancers' football fortunes largely rest.
"He brings some challenges. We've got a plan for him but he does have the capacity to make things interesting."
A fourth-year business student from Windsor, Kennedy started as a freshman and he completed 16 of 25 passes against Queen's in just his second intercollegiate game. As a sophomore in 2011 he completed 65 per cent of his passes - best in Canada - threw for 2,108 yards (fifth in Canada) and rushed for 432 yards, 10th in the conference but also the best in Ontario and second-best in the nation among quarterbacks.
Further greatness seemed imminent until he got hurt in a preseason game last year, spraining a knee ligament.
"It was a little more severe than we let on," Windsor coach Joe D'Amore said. "He didn't miss any games but we had to rest him most of the week during practice and it's tough as a quarterback if you're not getting a lot of reps during the week. Even though you're doing mental reps, it's not the same."
Gifted enough with a strong right arm, Kennedy's ability to throw the ball is enhanced by the threat he poses on every play to take off with the football. With that part of his repertoire drastically reduced, teams could take liberties in terms of both coverage and pressure. Though he threw for more yards - 2,637, the best in the land - he rushed for far fewer last year and his completion percentage was down. The Lancers, who climbed from 2-6 to 5-3 in 2011, sagged to 3-5.
Kennedy didn't require surgery - "he just needed time to heal," D'Amore said, declaring him 100 per cent healthy again.
"He looks like 2011."
D'Amore said Kennedy would have been functioning at a fraction of that in 2012. "Close to end of the year he started to feel a little better; he was probably about 75 per cent," D'Amore said. "Early on, less than that.
"It was a painful injury but he just kind of fought through it. He's one of the toughest players I've been around. They always joke about quarterbacks not being the tough guys but he takes a lot of shots. I remember back in 2011 he took a huge shot from (Queen's linebacker Sam) Sabourin late in the game. The game was pretty much decided but he ran and took a huge hit.
"We try to coach him up to avoid those collisions but that's just his nature. I coached him in the OVFL before I got here and he was the same way there. He carries the ball like a running back. He's built very strong. He's over 200 pounds for a guy who's 5-10, a real strong kid, physically, so he can handle the punishment but at the same time, the unnecessary ones are the ones you try to avoid."
What the Gaels will be trying to avoid Saturday is having Kennedy control the football game.
"He does cause you some headaches," Sheahan said. "Our defence is playing very well right now and even though I predict that we're going to play well against him, he's going to make some plays. You just need to slow him down and make sure he doesn't take over the game. A guy like that can do that."
Kennedy's ability to scramble, to take off and run and to extend plays is worrisome to opponents. "You think you have everybody covered and all of a sudden he gets away and that brings a certain stress on the defence," Sheahan said.
"You need to corral him - force him to be a pocket passer. That's one thing, and then you have to be real disciplined about what lane you're in because if you get three feet out of (position), and you create a big crevice in the rush lane, it's an opportunity for him to get out of there."
Sheahan said the pressure a team has to bring to contain Kennedy has to be "strategic."
"You don't want to get caught sending a bunch of people up the field indiscriminately (because) if he gets out of there and everybody else is locked into man coverage, you've got no run support. A guy like that, if you're not disciplined about your pressure schemes and your rush lanes, he can have a major impact on the game.
"It is a feature. Everybody knows it. It's no secret that he's really the key."
Kennedy threw for a school-record six touchdowns in the Lancers' season-opening victory over Waterloo but he didn't have quite so much fun in Game 2 versus Guelph. He threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and he was sacked 10 times, which, D'Amore said, "for a guy that's as mobile as he is, is a pretty large number."
"We had a little trouble protecting him last week," D'Amore said in his nominated quote for understatement of the week, "but he's playing real well.
"He's healthy. Last year he wasn't so much. He's been able to do the things we're asking him to do. We expected him to play this way so we're happy with what's going on."
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