KENNESAW — As Kennesaw State heads to Ogden, Utah, to face Weber State in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday, coach Brian Bohannon expects the Wildcats to be a different kind of animal than the Owls have seen this season.
That is particularly true on the defensive side of the ball.
“Their front seven are hard to block,” Bohannon said. “They are all really, really good. I’m not trying to make more of it than it needs to be, but we all turn the tape on and go, ‘Oh, boy.’ There’s a reason they’ve won the Big Sky three years in a row.”
Kickoff at Stewart Stadium is scheduled for 3 p.m.
National No. 3 seed Weber State (9-3) is No. 26 in the FCS in total defense at 344.2 yards per game, but its bread and butter is stopping the run. The Wildcats are No. 9, allowing only 107.3 yards per game on the ground.
The unit is anchored by a pair of first-team all-Big Sky selections along the defensive line.
Jonah Williams, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive end and the co-Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, enters the game with 48 tackles, 6.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Defensive tackle Jared Schiess, at 6-3, 300 pounds, is just as dangerous, coming in with 43 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
“They are big up front, and they are going to be hard to move,” Bohannon said.
One thing that could work in Kennesaw State’s favor is its style of running game.
Weber State has to face an option running team each year in conference foe Cal Poly, which ran for 165 yards against the Wildcats in September, but its form of the option does not come with Kennesaw State’s cut-blocking approach. The Owls (11-2) come in as the No. 1 rushing team in the FCS at 346.8 yards per game.
Last week, Kennesaw State also played a staunch defense that allowed only 147 yards per game, but it rolled up 309 in a 28-21 victory at Wofford.
Most of that was put up by Jonathan Murphy, the third-string quarterback who came off the bench to run for 206 yards and three touchdowns after Tommy Bryant — already starting in place of injured Daniel David — went out with a lower-body injury.
Bryant returned to practice this week, but it will be a game-time decision on who will get the start at Weber State.
Whoever the starter is, Bohannon said they will have to play well, just like the rest of the team if the Owls want to move on to the FCS quarterfinals for the third straight year.
“(Weber State is) well-rounded and don’t really have any weaknesses,” Bohannon said. “They are really stout, tough, hard-nosed on defense. They do a great job on offense of being balanced, but they want to run the football.”
When Weber State runs the ball, it does so with a decorated running back in Big Sky first-team selection Josh Davis.
Last year, Davis won the Jerry Rice Award as the best freshman in the FCS. In his sophomore follow-up season, he has put up 1,015 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Starting quarterback Jake Constantine has played only nine games this season, but he has thrown for 1,733 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“We are going to have to play extremely well and do the things we need to to give ourselves a chance to win the ball game,” Bohannon said. “We’re excited about the opportunity.”
GO WEST, YOUNG MEN
Saturday’s game marks only the fourth time Kennesaw State will be traveling west of the Mississippi River, but it is the second one in higher altitude.
Two years ago, the Owls went to Bozeman, Montana, and beat Montana State 16-14. Bozeman actually has a slightly higher altitude than Ogden at 4,793 feet above sea level, compared to 4,300.
To make sure his team was ready for the thinner air, Bohannon had everyone hydrate as much as possible this week and rest when they had down time. By doing that, Bohannon said the adjustment to the air will come quickly once the game starts.
Unlike its trip to Montana, Kennesaw State likely will not have to deal with the snow, though it will still be cold, with a forecast high of 42.
ON THE SCOREBOARD
Kennesaw State ranks fourth in the FCS in total defense at 278.1 yards per game, but, more importantly, it is ninth in scoring defense at 18.2 points per game.
If the Owls can hold Weber State to that number, they will have a great chance of winning.
The Wildcats are 7-0 this year and 27-3 overall under coach Jay Hill when they score 30 or more points in a game. When held under 30, they are 2-3 this season and 18-26 under Hill.
ON THE AIR
Saturday’s game can be seen on ESPN3, and it can be heard on 1230 AM and 106.3 FM Atlanta’s Sports X. It can also be streamed on the TuneIn app.