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FCS Playoff Preview: Kennesaw State at Wofford

By Matthew Golden
SouthernPigskin.com
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For the second consecutive season, the Terries will matchup against Kennesaw State in the postseason, with a chance to extend their championship hopes.

Overview

For the second consecutive season, the Terries will matchup against Kennesaw State in the postseason, with a chance to extend their championship hopes. In 2018, the fourth seeded Owls hosted Wofford, and defeated them by a score of 13-10 in the second round. This time around, things are a bit different. Wofford (8-3) sits at #15 in the FCS Coaches Poll and is fresh off a regular season in which the team was crowned Southern Conference champions. The Terriers would close their season by winning 5 of their last six, with their one loss coming to FBS powerhouse Clemson. After starting conference play 1-1, the Terriers would win their final seven conference games, including conference clinching victories against Furman and The Citadel in consecutive weeks. Kennesaw State (10-2)  comes into this weekend's action winning four of their last five and coming in at #9 in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. The Owls finished second in the Big South Conference, behind Monmouth, who handed them their lone conference loss. The winner of this first round matchup will travel to Ogden, Utah to take on the third overall seed in Weber State.

Why to Watch

Who doesn’t love a rematch? Not only a rematch, but a matchup between two of the top 15 ranked teams in the FCS. What was originally set as a 1:00 matchup, the showdown will now take place at 4:30 in Spartanburg, South Carolina as the Terriers welcome Kennesaw State into Gibbs Stadium. Featuring the top two rushing offenses in the FCS, Kennesaw State averages an astounding 350 rushing yards per game, with Wofford directly behind them having 323.5 rushing yards per game. The Owls rank 19th in the FCS in total offense, scoring a FBS and FCS high 53 rushing touchdowns on the season. On the defensive side of the ball, the Owls aren’t slacking either. Kennesaw State stacks up well nationally, ranking fifth in total defense, eighth in scoring defense, and seventh in rushing defense.

Wofford is competing in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, owning the fourth longest active playoff streak in the country. While missing out on a top eight seed, which includes a first-round bye, the Terriers are in a favorable position with a first-round home game and a familiar opponent in the Owls. In only a short five-year existence, KSU is making its third consecutive trip to the playoffs and is the only team in the Big South to reach 10 wins in three consecutive seasons. After last week’s victory over Gardner-Webb, KSU cemented themselves as the most successful college football startup program, with 47 wins in their first five seasons. Wofford will have its hands full on Saturday, but once the playoffs start, you expect quality opponents every week. 

Wofford Players to Watch

QB Joe Newman

The dual threat quarterback totaled 13 touchdowns on the ground, ranking 7th in the Southern conference, while adding seven more through the air. Though the Terriers rely mostly on the run game, Newman has been able to effect defenses with his mobility and the threat to throw the ball if needed. Newman has turned the ball over through the air only five times and ranked second in the Southern Conference in terms of passer efficiency.

DL Michael Mason

Mason jumped on the scene in his first year to play a huge role in the stifling Wofford defense. The athletic pass rusher would finish with seven solo sacks, tying Chattanooga’s Devonnsha Maxwell for first in the Southern Conference and placing him in the top 45 among the FCS. The freshman would also rack up ten and a half tackles for loss, placing him at sixth most in the conference.

Kennesaw State Players to Watch

QB Tommy Bryant

It’s not every day that two quarterbacks on the same team lead a conference in total touchdowns and scoring, but that’s exactly what the Owls have in Tommy Bryant and Daniel David. Bryant, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama native, has a league high 15 touchdowns, while David trails behind by just one. Daniel David, a former App St transfer, has been dealing with injuries for the ladder part of the season, and his health has remained somewhat of a question mark. Tommy Bryant has stepped up and provided this Owls offense consistency, leading the team to an average of 350 rushing yards and 40.1 points per game.

LB Bryson Armstrong

The Kell High School standout has had quite the career so far and continues to add on to his athletic resume. In 2017, Armstrong won the Jerry Rice National Freshman of the Year award, earned All-Big South first team honors, and was named an FCS All-American.  As a sophomore, the Marietta, Georgia native totaled ten tackles for loss and again earned Big South first team honors. This season, Armstrong earned the 2019 Big South Player of the Year after leading a defense that led the Big South in total defense, and total scoring defense.

Wofford Keys to the Game

Forcing Three and Outs: Both teams will rely heavily on the run game, meaning time of possession and getting off the field on third down will be a huge factor in deciding the victor. Wofford ranks 20th in the FCS in defensive third-down conversion percentage, only allowing its opponents a first down on 33% of its attempts on third down. If Wofford’s defense can force quick drives, without allowing much time to get off the clock, then they can in sense control the game. On the contrary, ff Kennesaw State can get their running game rolling early, it is going to be tough for the Terriers to stay fresh and attack the line of scrimmage consistently throughout four quarters.

Continue to Produce in Red Zone: Wofford has been able to establish success on offense by taking care of the football, and not wasting opportunities. The Terriers have been able to score on 41 of 43 (.932) attempts inside the red zone this season, placing them fifth amongst the FCS. Their offensive game plan remains run first inside the opponents 25-yard line, as the Terriers have totaled 30 touchdowns on the ground in the red zone. Scoring opportunities may become seldom in what’s expected to be a close game, making it even more imperative to produce when given the opportunity.

Kennesaw State Keys to the Game

Start Fast: You can expect the support of Gibbs Stadium to be their Saturday evening, as Wofford goes for its fourth consecutive season with a playoff win. Kennesaw State needs to avoid getting caught up in the excitement around the game and execute out the gate. Wofford ranks fourth in the FCS in time of possession, making it important for the Owls to produce first downs and chew some clock themselves to control the game. Kennesaw State averages 6.5 yards per rush, an FCS best, which can keep them in the ball game with just about anyone. Starting the game off with long drives and putting points on the board, can set you up in good position the rest of the ballgame.

Conclusion

The rematch of this ballgame is a great storyline across the FCS and will showcase two of the top teams in their respective conferences going at it. I’d expect another low scoring affair, like last year’s 13-10 final, with a few big plays thrown in the mix. In a playoff game where possession and scoring come at a premium, its expected for both teams to have some sort of wrinkle in their game plan. With the loser packing its bag, and the winner moving on to Utah, the excitement for this weekend’s playoff matchup continues to grow.