The Greater Atlanta Area is starting to get congested with football teams of late. Georgia State started up a football program not even a decade ago and Athens CC has recently decided that Athens is somehow inside the perimeter in recent years. So with just 23 miles separating Kennesaw State’s stadium from Bobby Dodd, we can go ahead and assume they are an Atlanta team as well. Though they may want to leave a day early on the buses if they want to make kickoff in that traffic down I-75.
KSU was founded as a junior college in 1963 before quickly growing and gaining University status in 1996, when they also won NCAA Division II national titles in baseball and softball. Fast forward to 2015 and two major events happened for the school: The absorption of Southern Polytech (which was founded by former GT president Blake Van Leer) and the first season of football for the KSU Owls.
The Owls play in the Big Sun as an FCS team and have had some success as a new program. Their official football page boasts their first 5 years to be the most successful for any program in college football with a 48-15 record. Let’s talk about a familiar name behind that success, Head Coach Brian Bohannon.
If you’re not familiar with Coach Bohannon he has been a long disciple of former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. He was with Johnson at Georgia Southern during their national title runs and followed him to Navy and then the first five years at Georgia Tech. While CPJ was his own offensive play-caller you could say Bohannon was the closest thing to an offensive coordinator under Johnson.
Some Atlanta media members enjoyed making snide remarks that GT competed against KSU in recruiting when they got their football team up and running. Georgia Tech surely attracted higher-ranked recruits but the type of players was similar as Coach Bohannon has adopted CPJ’s option.
While no one can replicate the master, KSU broke into the FCS playoffs behind a powerful rushing attack in 2017 and made it to the quarterfinals before losing to Sam Houston State. They returned in 2018 and 2019 winning their first matchup before losing their second. They won the Big South in 2017 and 2018 while also finishing in the top 10 of the FCS Coaches Poll from 2017-2019. The FCS played spring ball last year due to COVID and KSU came away with a 4-1 record.
Being a smaller school there isn’t a lot of in-depth stats and coverage that you can track down and their shortened season might not show the whole picture but we know what we will see offensively from the Owls as they will run the option similar to what Tech ran from 2008-2018. It appears they will return a lot of their offensive production at the skill positions including QB Johnathan Murphy who threw only 24 attempts but completed 13 for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns. He added 174 on the ground. He was spelled out by fellow QBs Tommy Bryant and Xavier Shepherd as well so there could be competition for the starting role.
Kyle Glover and Isaac Foster led the team in rushing and both will return and are sure to be the main workhorses for the ground game. No receiver had more than 5 receptions but was for those deep shots the option lures the defense into as the team as a whole averaged over 20 yards a catch.
Defensively it seems they struggled against the pass but were quite formidable against the run as they only allowed 113 yards per game. I can’t confirm which players left or decided to stay an extra season, but many of their top defensive leaders were seniors, so it may be safe to say they lose production on that side of the ball.
It should be noted, though, that the short schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet and their lone loss was a lopsided loss to Monmouth (42-17). There shouldn’t be any excuse for Georgia Tech to drop this game, but option offenses can cause havoc for some teams who are ill-prepared. Tech suffered that tragedy against The Citadel in Coach Collins’ first year.
KSU can’t be called a rival, but close proximity, the fact they sport a respectable engineering program, and the fact that they run an offense inspired by the one that Collins’ predecessor ran means this game shouldn't be glossed over. A win for KSU would energize their growing fan base and allow doubt of Tech’s ability to maintain Atlanta to creep around.
This is the year Tech needs to start putting away games it should win. NIU and KSU are good starting points so I expect the team to be focused before having to take on Clemson the following week.