5 things to know about the first football matchup at SunTrust Park

Owls remember challenge of Jacksonville State defense entering SunTrust Park game

Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon thinks Jacksonville State is without a doubt the best team the Owls have faced in program history. 

In last season’s game in Jacksonville, Ala., the Owls — who averaged 30 points last season — were limited to 17 points by the constricting Gamecocks defense in a narrow KSU victory.

Bohannon even joked last year that Jacksonville State looked like it had 13 players on defense because of how it stonewalled the Kennesaw State run game. In their 17-7 win, the Owls were limited to 213 rushing yards, averaging 3.9 a carry with only two touchdowns.

Kennesaw State (9-1) coaches and players expect the same in this season’s meeting Saturday at SunTrust Park, where the teams will meet in a 3 p.m. game that will be televised by Fox Sports Southeast.

Quarterback Chandler Burks, who scored one of the Owls’ touchdowns last season, said outlasting Jacksonville State last year took everything his team had.

“They came out with a really sound plan against us,” Burks said. “We saw a multi-front game and then also their experience on the defensive side being they had a lot of guys who played a lot of football and then at the end of the day, it comes down to them being really good football players, and they went out there and they executed at a very high level.”

Burks rushed for 76 yards on 19 carries in the win, but also threw for 126 yards in search of another way to move the ball downfield.

Bohannon said he will see how this week’s game unfolds before deciding if more passing plays will be called. 

“We kind of do what we have to do to move the ball, and a lot of it’s predicated on how they’re playing, just to move the ball at all last year was monumental because they could run and tackle and they were really good,” Bohannon said.

With 25 yards on eight carries and Kennesaw State’s other touchdown against Jacksonville State, running back Darnell Holland put part of the blame of last year’s low-scoring game on how the Owls played mentally.

Holland was named this week’s Big South Offensive Player of the Week after recording a team-high of 195 yards and three touchdowns Saturday in Kennesaw State’s 51-14 win over Monmouth.

“I think it was our own mental gaps, our (lack of) mental focus,” Holland said. “There are a lot of times when we were stepping on ourselves and hurting ourselves so once we overcame our own mental problems, it was just adds to the end zone and not giving up and just fighting through a lot of the struggles and obstacles.”

While the Owls have won back-to-back Big South titles and gained more experience in big games since they last faced the Gamecocks, Jacksonville State still poses the same threat on defense. 

Jacksonville State (8-2) is limiting opponents to an average of 18.1 points, 88.2 rushing yards and 275.9 total yards this season. The Gamecocks have also limited opponents to a 22 percent success rate on third down and touchdowns on 45 percent of trips to the red zone.

“It’s once again going to take everything that we have with everybody doing their job and all 11 (players) playing to a championship standard that we have around here to be able to give us the best chance of putting our best foot forward,” Burks said.

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