On its final day of spring practice, Kennesaw State played its fifth annual Black and Gold game at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on Friday night.
The defense (black) washed away the offense (gold) by a score of 69-40 in a unique spring game that featured the offense always playing the defense rather than two split teams facing each other. The defense held the offense to just four touchdowns in 110 offensive plays.
With spring ball concluded and a break until preseason camp begins, here are five things we learned about the Owls on Friday.
A new defense adjusts quicker than a new offense
The defensive dominance on display was indicative of the respective spring learning curves for each side in the spring. The defense, which finished last season second in total defense in the FCS, is led by four new coaches, but they’ve clearly fit in fast.
“They’re one of the best defenses in the country, no doubt,” quarterback Daniel David said. “They’re flying around every snap. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pass or a run, there’s at least eight guys around the ball.”
Coach Brian Bohannon said that the defensive staff has integrated seamlessly to his system, which asks players to “fly around.” For the Owls, that transition has been much better than the one on offense, which saw them lose nine starters. For as great as the defense looked, the offense raised a whole lot more questions than answers, averaging 3.2 yards per play when it had the ball for the entire 48-minute game.
The Owls have Murphy stashed in their back pocket
If there was one player who stood out most Friday night, it was without a doubt fourth-string quarterback Jonathan Murphy. He was under center for more drives than any other quarterback (five), leading two of the Owls’ four touchdown drives and racking up 55 of KSU’s 179 rushing yards.
“Murphy had an exceptional spring for a young man that enrolled here in January,” Bohannon said. “I don’t know that I’ve been around a quarterback that picked up what we do that fast in my coaching career.”
Murphy has three seasons of eligibility left, so Bohannon has decided to go with the senior David next season and redshirt Murphy so that he can use the dynamic quarterback in the future.
The offensive line has a lot of work to do
Bohannon pointed to the offensive line all spring as an area of uncertainty after losing four of five starters last year. Friday night didn’t help. A big part of the offensive inefficiencies came as a result of line play, as defenders streamed into the backfield to the tune of eight sacks and a remarkable 25 tackles for loss.
“The left tackle enrolled here two months ago,” Bohannon said. “The right tackle is a redshirt freshman. The center is a redshirt sophomore. Our best offensive lineman’s not playing. But at the end of the day those are all excuses, and I’m an excuse-free guy.”
Excuses or not, Bohannon’s triple-option offense is going to need much better offensive line play if it wants to have any hopes of another deep run in the FCS playoffs in the coming season.
Monte Jones is going to make some big catches
The wide receiver group is another young part of the offense, but when David is forced into passing downs, Jones looks to be the No. 1 target.
Jones was targeted on three jump balls Friday night by the rotating cast of quarterbacks. He caught the only touchdown that came through the air, a 14-yard pass from Murphy that he hauled in one-handed while being interfered with by a defensive back.
When the Owls get into the red zone and defenses lock in on the run game, Jones will be a necessary threat in one-on-one matchups on the outside.
Plank is alive and well
Plenty of programs have talismanic figures on the sidelines these days. It may not be the turnover chain of Miami, but Plank, a literal plank of wood based on a character from an old cartoon, is the go-to for the KSU defense.
In the dominant performance, the defense never created a live ball turnover until the final play of the game (the offense fumbled four times, but recovered all four). David dropped back for a Hail Mary pass, which was intercepted by Adesola Abisoye, who ran straight to the bench to celebrate with the Owls’ favorite two-by-four.
“Those guys love Plank,” Bohannon said. “The more those guys see Plank, the better it is for our football team.”
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