Chris Raimondi, Sports Editor
Kennesaw State faces its biggest challenge to date when Gardner-Webb enters Fifth Third Bank Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m. for the Owls’ first Big South Conference game in program history.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs (2-3) are riding high off of their 34-20 upset over No. 15 Liberty, while the Owls (4-1) are fresh off a 56-17 drubbing of NAIA opponent Point University.
“I talked to our football team about having one chance to make a first impression,” KSU head coach Brian Bohannon said. “Everyone around the Big South is looking around going, ‘Well, have they played anybody? Are they really any good? Is this a startup?’ We have a chance to go make an impression.”
KSU’s offensive line, which has not allowed a sack all season, will face possibly the biggest front-seven it has seen all season, and it starts with O.J. Mau.
The 6-foot-2, 319 pound nose guard was voted to the Big South’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year and has so far lived up to the hype. Mau has 21 tackles, five for a loss and one sack in five games played.
Gardner-Webb linebacker Chad Geter recorded 10 tackles in last week’s win over the Flames and was named the Big South Defensive Player of the Week. KSU’s offense will have its hands full with such an experienced defense, but GWU has yet to play a triple-option offense.
Injuries are beginning to mount for the Owls as starting 2-back Micah Reed is out for the season with a fractured right fibula Bohannon announced Wednesday. Trey Chivers is the starter going forward and backup quarterback Jake McKenzie will serve as Chivers’ backup.
Bohannon stated moving McKenzie to running back was something that the coaching staff has been considering for a while and they were waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself, and it did.
“Jake is tough, physical, hard-nosed and then some. He’s a really good player who is standing on the sideline,” Bohannon said. “You get caught up between the backup quarterback and a really good player.”
Starting defensive lineman Luther Jones and defensive back Keon Roman are also both out for the season.
The Big South opener marks the fourth home game for the Owls and the fourth sell-out. Bohannon cited how important fans’ punctuality is for the team’s energy.
“I can’t tell you how big of a deal it is and how much our kids feed off of the energy in the stadium. I’ll say this to everybody who is a Kennesaw State fan: Having every seat in that stadium packed for Saturday’s game at 1 o’clock is going to make a huge impact on our football team,” Bohannon said.