KSU faces Monmouth for Big South title

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John Bednarowski, Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
·4 min read
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Apr. 9—Kennesaw State football coach Brian Bohannon has always said the goal for his team is to win championships.

That is exactly what the seventh-ranked Owls (4-0, 2-0) can do Saturday when they travel to No. 20 Monmouth (2-0, 2-0). Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN+.

The winner will be the Big South Conference champion and earn an automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The loser will have to sit and wait for the FCS playoff selection show and hope it can get one of the five at-large bids into the bracket.

Should KSU beat the Hawks it would almost guarantee they would open the playoffs at home as Fifth Third Bank Stadium was selected as one of the 14 predetermined preliminary playoff sites by the NCAA on Thursday.

The Owls are 4-1 all-time against Monmouth, but the lone loss came last year at home. The Hawks jumped out to a 45-7 lead before winning 45-21. With that win, Monmouth denied Kennesaw State a third straight conference title and it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. The players who return from that game now get a chance to make up for one of the few bad performances the Owls have had at home.

"I think our kids understand where we are," Bohannon said. "They decided to play in the spring because they wanted to compete for a championship. I think that's a credit to them, but that's the goals of our program since we started in 2015 and that hasn't changed.

"If they can't get ready for this one then we have problems. I don't think that will be the case, but it will be more about preparation and the ability to go execute and sustain consistency for four quarters."

The game is setting up as a battle of strengths. Monmouth is averaging 41 points per game, Kennesaw State is allowing 12.3. The Owls are averaging 294.8 yards rushing per game, the Hawks are allowing 56, and Monmouth is averaging 438.5 yards of total offense per game, KSU is allowing only 228.3.

"They have a lot of guys back from last year," Bohannon said. "Probably eight of 11 starters on defense and the majority of their guys on offense are back. They had to replace the quarterback (Kenji Bahar) and running back (All-American Pete Guerriero). The quarterback (Tony Muskett), you wouldn't know he's a freshman by the way he plays. He's athletic, he's sharp, he makes good decisions. The running back (Juwon Farri) we've seen him in 2018, he wasn't with them (in 2019), he's a good player.

Muskett has thrown for 452 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions so far. His success has helped open holes for Farri, who has run for 243 yards and seven touchdowns in the Hawks' 35-17 win over Charleston Southern and their 48-19 win last week at Gardner-Webb.

For Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan, Muskett's handling of the offense has been impressive.

"What I've said is that he has a level of maturity and a way about him that is somewhat uncommon for a true freshman to have," he told the Asbury Park Press. "He plays like an experienced player. That doesn't mean he always does everything right, but he doesn't get rattled very easily.

"Whether he is having success or not having success he can come off the field after a series and communicate very clearly and very precisely with the offensive coaches and really let them know what he's seeing out there. And to have that in a freshman I think is really unusual."

The Owls are expected to get a boost this week with the return of quarterback Jonathan Murphy. The sophomore missed the last two games after getting banged up against Charleston Southern last month. Bohannon said Murphy would be good to go and will team with Xavier Shepherd, who took over against Dixie State when original starter Tommy Bryant was injured and then started for the first time this season last week against Robert Morris. The duo is responsible for 410 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in place of Bryant.