KSU welcomes Jacksonville State to campus for first time

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Oct. 1—Kennesaw State will try to move to 3-1 on the season when it welcomes No. 17 Jacksonville State to Fifth Third Bank Stadium for the first time.

It will be the first game at home in a month, and first since the season opener against Reinhardt.

The Owls come in ranked 20th and will try to move to 3-0 all time against the Gamecocks (2-2) when the teams kickoff at 3 p.m.

"We're getting ready to play one of the better football teams we've played here," KSU coach Brian Bohannon said. "We've played them twice. Jacksonville State is as talented as anyone we'll play all year, always have been, always will be."

The wins in the series so far could arguably be the two biggest in program history. In 2017, KSU went on the road to JSU and beat them 17-7 in the second round of the FCS playoffs. A year later, in what was called the FCS Game of the Year, the Owls won 60-52 in five overtimes. While the rosters for both teams have almost completely turned over, one of the key players from that game is back for Jacksonville State.

Quarterback Zerrick Cooper returns, and the 6-foot-3, 217-pouind senior is the first person Bohannon mentioned when he talked about the matchup.

Offensively, you look at the quarterback position," Bohannon said. "He makes them go. Zerrick Cooper is a heck of a player. He played against us in 18, and he makes some unbelievable throws. He has the ability to run, but he does a great job of keeping his eyes down field."

In three games this fall, Cooper has completed 53 percent of his passes for 646 yards, four touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception. In the 2018 matchup he completed 32 of 52 passes for 417 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Bohannon said as good as Cooper was that day, there are obvious points where he has improved.

"He's more patient," Bohannon said. He's better in his progressions because he knows what he's doing and he knows where he's going."

While Cooper will be the focus of the KSU defense, the Jacksonville State defense comes in as one of the most opportunistic in recent memory. Over the last two games, the JSU defense has scored three touchdowns and six over the last two seasons. Bohannon said protecting the ball against the Gamecocks is key.

"They can run. They are athletic. They are long and that's how they create some turnovers," Bohannon said. "Teams every year take on an identity and that's who they are now. They are hard to move the ball on and when they make plays like that it really puts you behind the eight-ball.

"We can't turn the ball over. We can't go into this game, turn the ball over and survive."

Coming into the game KSU is averaging 277 yards per game on the ground. Jacksonville State, which comes into the game off a 34-31 loss to Tennessee-Martin last week, is allowing 165 yards per game on the ground and 428 yards per game overall.


While Kennesaw State still has more than 20 players listed as out for Saturday's game, there are four key players who are not listed on the injury report any more — defensive linemen Peyton Moore and Travis Bell, along with running back Isaac Foster and quarterback Jonathan Murphy.

All four are likely to see action on Saturday, but how much is still in question. Foster is the only one of the four listed as a starter on the weekly depth chart. Moore, Bell and Murphy are all listed as backups. If that is the case, quarterback Xavier Shepherd will make his third straight start in place of Murphy, who suffered a lower body injury against Reinhardt in the season opener.


This will be the final meeting between the programs as non-conference foes. Next season, Kennesaw State will transition its football program from the Big South to the ASUN where it will face off with Jacksonville State every year going forward as a conference opponent.


The game can be seen on ESPN+ and heard on the KSU Owls App.

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