KENNESAW — Kennesaw State will hit the road for its Big South Conference opener Saturday at Hampton.
It will be the No. 17 Owls’ second straight trip in the series to the Virginia coast, having beaten the Pirates 50-7 in the teams’ inaugural meeting two years ago.
Kickoff at Armstrong Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Kennesaw State (3-1) comes into the game not exactly knowing what to expect. Hampton (2-2) has two new coordinators on their staff. Zack Patterson helms the Pirates’ offense after serving as the running backs coach at defending Football Championship Subdivision champion Sam Houston State, while Todd McComb leads the defensive unit.
In addition, Hampton is still getting back into the flow of a football season after not playing last fall or in the abbreviated spring season.
What Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon does know is the Pirates’ offense, when playing like competition, is scoring a lot of points. Aside from being held to seven points by Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Old Dominion, Hampton is averaging 44.6 points per game. Last week, the Pirates scored 44, only to lose by three in overtime to Norfolk State.
Hampton’s offense has been balanced this season.
Quarterback Jett Duffey, a Texas Tech transfer, is averaging 248.5 passing yards per game, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. His main receiver is 6-foot-4, 175-pound Jadakis Bonds, who has caught 22 passes for 335 yards and five touchdowns.
Bonds is someone who has impressed Bohannon in the early part of the season.
“(Bonds), I saw him at media day,” Bohannon said. “He’s kind of a go-to guy for them. He is a good-looking young man.”
On the ground, Hampton features a pair of running backs who have each run for more than 300 yards already this season in Elijah Burris (338) and Darran Butts (305).
Butts and Bond both played against Kennesaw State in 2019. Butts had four carries for 7 yards, while Bond caught four passes for 40 yards.
“Their football team is playing much more inspired than I remember,” Bohannon said. “Look at the last game. They scored a lot of points. It went to overtime. They are running the ball, but they are also throwing it. They aren’t afraid to take shots. They are doing some really good things.”
Where Hampton seems to be vulnerable is on the defensive side of the ball. The Pirates have allowed 38.5 points and 473.3 yards per game — 179 of which they are allowing on the ground.
Kennesaw State comes into the game averaging 275.8 yards on the ground, with 271 last week in an impressive 31-6 victory over then-No. 17 Jacksonville State.
The Hampton defense is led by linebacker KeShaun Moore, who has 15 tackles including 3.5 for loss, a sack and an forced fumble.
Bohannon said Xavier Shepherd will remain the starting quarterback, even with Jonathan Murphy back from a lower-body injury in Kennesaw State’s season opener against Reinhardt.
Shepherd has led the Owls to two straight wins and was named Big South Offensive Player of the Week after running for 124 yards and three touchdowns against Jacksonville State.
That does not mean Murphy will not see the field. Bohannon said both quarterbacks were performing well, and it will be much like when the team broke fall camp, when Murphy and Shepherd were options Nos. 1 and 1A in either order.
The number of starters on the injured list has significantly dwindled. The only starter out for Saturday’s game is defensive back Markeith Montgomery, who has a lower leg injury. Two other players are listed as questionable — starting running back Isaac Foster and starting defensive tackle Tyler Moore.
Kennesaw State is 5-1 all-time in Big South openers, with a four-game win streak. The only loss the Owls have suffered in a conference opener came to Liberty in 2016, in Kennesaw State’s second year of the program.
On the air
Saturday’s game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard through the KSU Owls app.