Mar. 19—It is not often Kennesaw State is the established Football Championship Subdivision program when taking on a opponent, but that will be the case when the sixth-year Owls host Dixie State on Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
The Trailblazers (1-2), a first-year Western Athletic Conference program from St. George, Utah, are in their first season as an FCS program, is making the trip to the Deep South to face the ninth-ranked Owls (2-0) for the first time.
It is the final non-conference game of the season for Kennesaw State. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
The Owls (2-0) will be looking to equal their best start in program history, and they will be trying to do so against a team that has not had a lot of experience trying to slow down the kind of option attack Kennesaw State likes to run.
"I hate the triple option," Dixie State coach Paul Peterson told the St. George Spectrum & Daily News earlier this week. "(Defensive coordinator Tyler) Almond's like this, too. He hates it."
Dixie State can expect to get a pretty big dose of the option. Through three games, the Trailblazers' defense has allowed an average of 29 points, 243.3 rushing yards and 479 yards of total offense.
While Kennesaw State is averaging 268.5 rushing yards, it has yet to hit the big-chunk play for a quick-strike touchdown. What the Owls have had is six drives of at least eight plays, including drives of 16, 13 and 13 plays against Charleston Southern a week ago.
The three drives ate up more than 22 minutes of clock time, and it is something Peterson is concerned about.
"They milk the clock. You're getting four, five possessions a half, and you're losing a third of those possessions," Peterson said. "You're just kind of twiddling your thumbs over there, waiting to get out there."
Dixie State had a number of players who would have been starters during a regular fall season opt out for the spring, including players at the quarterback and running back positions. That has turned the offense over to redshirt junior quarterback Kody Wilstead and freshman running back Quali Conley.
Wilstead comes in having completed 55.2% of his passes for 802 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Conley leads the team in rushing with 246 yards and two touchdowns.
"Offensively, they are probably the most well-rounded offense that we've played to date," Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said. "They can run the football. Their running back is a really, really good player, and they do a nice job of scheming and putting him in position to make plays.
"Their wideouts, they have a (6-foot-8) wideout (Deven Osborne) who is a matchup problem. They have another receiver (Jalen Powell) who is really dynamic and had great ball skills, and the quarterback makes plays. He does a great job with his eyes down the field and moves around in the pocket."
Osborne leads the Trailblazers in receiving with 14 receptions for 173 yards, Powell has caught 13 balls for 184 yards and a touchdown, and Conley is a threat out of the backfield, catching 10 passes for 167 yards and a score.
One thing the Dixie State offense has done is fumble the football. In their three games, the Trailblazers have put the ball on the ground six times and lost four.
Kennesaw State has forced five fumbles in its first two games and recovered three.
By the numbers
Kennesaw State's 268.5 rushing yards per game puts them second in the FCS. The Owls have rushed for more than 200 yards in 18 consecutive games and 59 of 65 games all-time.
Kennesaw State is also seventh in the FCS in average total defense (202.0 yards allowed) and time of possession (35:15). Last week, the Owls set a new program best in time of possession, holding the ball for 40:20.
On the air
Saturday's game will be streamed live on ESPN+ and can also be heard on the TuneIn app. Tickets are sold out.