Week 6 marked the mid-point of the 2021 football season and the Big South Conference race has begun to heat up as conference play took first order with a huge showdown between four powerhouses is in on tap for this weekend down in Atlanta.
The four frontrunners, Monmouth, A&T, Campbell, and Kennesaw State remain unbeaten in conference play with all of those teams facing each other over the next three weeks.
In last week’s action, Kennesaw State went up to Hampton and behind the play of star Quarterback Xavier Shepherd controlled the tempo and ground game for a 34-15 win over the Pirates. Shepherd ran for three touchdowns and 179 yards on 29 carries for the Owls (4-1), solidified their position as the 15th-ranked team in the FCS.
North Carolina A&T jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half but had to come from behind in the fourth quarter as they survived a tough game with North Alabama 38-34 in Greensboro.
Quarterback Jalen Fowler went 14-20 for 243 yards and three touchdowns among eight receivers while true freshman running back Bhayshul Tuten accounted for 196 yards in total offense and two touchdowns moving the first year Aggies to 2-0 in conference play.
Robert Morris celebrated homecoming with a 31-24 win over Charleston Southern and evened their record to 1-1 and 2-2 overall. CSU was nursing a lead late in the fourth quarter before safety Lorenzo Euline picked off a pass and took it 50 yards to the house for score with just 3:12 left to secure the victory.
Campbell and Gardner-Webb exchanged offensive blows for three and quarters before the Camels capitalized on couple of Bulldog turnovers to seize control midway in the fourth quarter en route to a 42-28 win.
Monmouth had visions of purging the memories of a 2019 lopsided loss to Princeton. The Tigers had other thing in mind as the Ivy Leaguers spotted the home team a 15-point advantage in the third quarter before scoring 22 straight points to defeat Monmouth a 31-28 loss in the non-conference game. It was the Hawks second loss in its last three games, both at home.
In the weekend’s big marquee heavyweight match-up, North Carolina A&T (3-2, 2-0) travels to familiar territory in Atlanta as it will be homecoming at Kennesaw State (4-1,1-0). Game time is 5 p.m.
Monmouth (3-2, 2-0) will try to get back on the winning track in another huge Big South showdown against a very hot Campbell University (3-2, 2-0) squad, winners of three straight, down in Buies Creek, NC. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Hampton (2-3, 0-1) will be seeking to keep pace with the leaders as the Pirates travel down to Charleston Southern (1-3, 0-2) for a 6 p.m. start.
Robert Morris (2-2, 1-1) will also be looking to stay alive as the Colonials will lock horns with North Alabama (0-6, 0-2) down in Florence, Ala. for a 7 p.m. contest.
Gardner-Webb has the week off.
Big South Television Schedule for Saturday 10-16-21
1:00 PM Monmouth @ Campbell ESPN3
5:00 PM North Carolina A&T @ Kennesaw State ESPN+
6:00 PM Hampton @ Charleston Southern ESPN+
7:00 PM Robert Morris @ North Alabama ESPN+
The #15-ranked Kennesaw State Owls have been a regular fixture in the FCS polls over the last few years under Coach Brian Bohannon. Bohannon is in his seventh year at the helm and has built a 54-17 record overall and has gone 22-8 in Big South Conference play.
Hired on in 2013 and tasked with building a football program from scratch, Bohannon quickly turned Kennesaw State into the best five-year start-up program in college football history in 2019 with a 48-15 overall record, two Big South Conference championships, three straight appearances in the FCS Playoffs and four playoff victories.
The Owls are somewhat of a throwback in their offense scheme in a world dominated with spread offenses that throw the ball on a regular. KSU uses the variation of the veer offense with a heavy emphasis on running the triple option with a bit of Wing-T misdirection mixed in.
The key to the success of the offense squarely rests on the shoulders of sophomore Xavier Shepherd (6-0, 205). The Nashville, TN. native is extremely athletic and quick as lightning as he has rushed for 259 yards with 6 touchdowns while completing 19-34 passes for 290 yards and three more scores so far this year.
Kyle Glover (5-11, 215, GR) was second team All-Big South a year ago and is KSU’s leading rusher this year with 302 yards (5.0 ypc). The speed guy at the wingback position is Iaan Cousins (6-0,165, So.). The Owls took s hit last week when they lost arguably their best running back Isaac Foster to a season ending injury.
The leading receivers for the Owls are all running backs as KSU is very conservative in their passing game. They are totally committed to the run throwing the ball just 10 times for an average of 88.7 yards per game.
The Owl offensive line isn’t particularly big but they are strong at executing their assignments. The strength of the KSU ground game can be traced to their ability to cut block teams along the line scrimmage.
Their first five will be tackles Jack Lassiter (6-1, 240) and Zion Katina (6-2, 285), guards Chris Dye (6-3, 265) and Terry Paxton (6-0, 310) and center William Fabu (6-1, 275). Small or not, this line is responsible for the Owls averaging 288 yards on the ground, tops in the Big South.
Defensively KSU mirrors their offense, placing athleticism as a priority over size. It’s a mixed group when it comes to experience with quite a few sophomores up front, mostly juniors at the linebacker spots, and nearly all seniors in the secondary.
That secondary possesses 4 of KSU’s top six tacklers and these Owls are a physical bunch.
Je’Cory Burks (6-0, 195, Sr.), Cole Loden (5-11, 185, Sr.) and Java’n Singletary (6-0, 195, Jr.) have a combined 45 tackles on the season.
The linebackers aren’t overly big but they swarm to the ball in mass. Evan Thompson (6-0, 210), Xavier Reddick (6-1, 230) and grad Kerrick Reese (6-2,220) are all having outstanding seasons and are strong candidates for post season honors.
The down lineman are all big run stoppers and are tough to root out led by nose guard Tyler Scott (6-1, 300, So.). He’ll get plenty of help from tackles Travis Bell (6-2, 285, So.) Demetric Barnes (6-4, 295, So.) and end Jahon Myers (6-3, 250, So.).
Statistically Kennesaw is allowing just 118 yards per game rushing, second only to A&T in that category while holding opponents to a miserly 176 yards per contest through the air making them currently the top defensive unit in the Big South.
If there is a weakness on this Owl team it may be the unremarkable play of their special teams. The Owls are averaging just 33 yards per punt and allowing just over 22 yards on kickoff returns.
This week North Carolina A&T, for the first time, will test itself against the established hierarchy of the Big South Conference when they step onto the field to face #17 ranked Kennesaw State as the Owls homecoming opponent.
KSU was picked to finish second in the Big South preseason polling with the Aggies picked just behind them in the #3 spot. The Owls have run off victories over Hampton, Charleston Southern, Jacksonville State, Wofford, and NAIA Reinhardt. Their only loss of the season came at the hands of Georgia Tech.
Both teams will be fighting to get a strong toehold on first place in the Big South especially now that everyone’s top preseason pick Monmouth has shown themselves to vulnerable this season losing 2 out of their 3 three ball games.
While this game will be one of contrasting styles of offense the defensive philosophies between these two teams are essentially the same – stop the run. Both teams are exceptionally strong at stopping the run, with A&T leading the Big South in run defense holding its opponents this year to just under 90 yards per game. KSU is right behind the Aggies allowing just 118 yards per contest.
Offensive possessions in this game will be at a premium because both teams tend to dominate the time of possession with ball control running games. Kennesaw is one of the last few college teams left that run a true triple option variation of the veer so its something the Aggies are unaccustomed to seeing on a regular basis. By the same token KSU has not run into a team yet that has as much offensive balance or as many different weapons to choose from as the Aggies.
It’s going to come down to some of the little things that will determine who comes out top after the dust settles Saturday night. There will be three keys to keep an eye on as the game goes on.
This game is a pick’em game. KSU has been very tough at home over the last few years while A&T has a tradition of playing well on the road and a strong track record in high stakes games. And despite the fact that this will be KSU’s homecoming, Atlanta is home base for a huge number of A&T alumni so the usual home field advantage may be somewhat negated with a lot of blue and gold loyalist in attendance as well.
This will be a back alley brawl between two very good football teams so don’t be looking for any blowouts nor a high scoring shootout affair. This game will be a defensive chess match that will go down to the wire. KSU has been the king of the Big South for a while but there’s something about A&T’s positive history of being on the road in big games you have to like.
Especially in Atlanta. Aggies love them some ATL.
N. C. A&T – 23
Kennesaw – 20