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Aggies face big challenge this week against Kennesaw State

By Semaj Marsh / October 15, 2021

A&T head coach Sam Washington is fully aware that his team will need to play its most disciplined football of the season if the Aggies hope to upset No. 13 ranked Kennesaw State on the road this weekend.

The 4-1 Owls utilize an old school, triple option style offense that features a heavy ground attack and a ton of misdirection.

In a match up that may have early conference championship and playoff implications, the Aggies will need to tackle well on defense, stay sound in their gap assignments and above all – cut down on the number of penalties and mental errors.

“I don’t think we’ve ever played a team before that ran a true triple option,” said Washington, who first arrived at A&T in 2011 as the defensive coordinator under then head coach Rod Broadway. “This will be the very first and it’s going to be a big challenge for us. It’s going to require us to be very disciplined. It’s about reading your keys and reacting to what your keys say and not following the football in the backfield with your eyes. So, discipline will be a huge factor.”

Unfortunately for the Aggies, staying disciplined in recent weeks has been easier said than done.

Last Saturday against North Alabama, the Aggies were flagged 12 times for a season-high 127 yards in penalties. Those flags included a whopping seven defensive pass inference calls, three offsides penalties and even an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting after a touchdown. At one point, A&T suffered turnovers on three consecutive drives.

As a result, the Aggies saw a comfortable 24-7 halftime lead evaporate into a 31-34 deficit, before Bhayshul Tuten’s 60-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter eventually put A&T ahead for good, 38-34.

On that play, the freshman running back caught a short swing pass in the flat, broke several tackles and then followed a convoy of blockers down the sideline for the longest touchdown of his young career.

Tuten, who was named Big South Conference Freshman of the Week, finished with 166 total yards and two touchdowns against North Alabama. He has now reached the end zone in three straight games and is averaging a team-best 8.6 yards per carry.

“It’s a joy to just watch that young man practice,” said Washington. “I believe that you play like you practice. He practices at that same high level and that why he’s about to perform as well as he does.”

The win improved the Aggies’ record to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big South. A&T is currently on a three-game winning streak but will now face its toughest conference challenge to date as they prepare to travel to the metro Atlanta area for what will be Kennesaw State’s homecoming.

The Owls’ stadium only seats 8,300 fans and is expected to be completely sold out for this contest. Kickoff it set for 5 p.m. on Saturday and the game will air live on ESPN Plus.

“It’s going to be a big ballgame, period,” said Washington who is 4-0 in his last four trips to the greater Atlanta area; all victories in the Celebration Bowl. “They are a very good, nationally ranked opponent”.

The Owls offense is led by sophomore quarterback Xavier Shepard who has rushed for 438 yards and nine touchdowns this season, while also passing for three scores.

Their only loss this season came against ACC foe Georgia Tech.

Kennesaw State is coming off an impressive 34-15 victory last week at Hampton, and against FCS teams the Owls are averaging 32.8 points per game.

Kennesaw currently has the second-best rushing offense in the entire nation, averaging 288.4 yards per game. Ironically, A&T currently has the No. 1 run defense in the Big South Conference, allowing just 95.2 yards per game on the ground this season.

Thus, this match up is shaping up to be the proverbial encounter of the irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

“Honestly, this is going to be fun for me,” said Washington, whose defenses have held opponents to under 100 yards rushing 67 times since he has been at A&T. “They’re the No. 1 rushing offense and we’re the No. 1 run defense, so that in itself sets the tempo.”

Coach Washington said he is firm believer that the key to stopping a team with high-powered running game is keeping them off the field with your own offense.

That’s the formula defending Big South champion Monmouth University used when they knocked off the Owls in each of their last two meetings. This past spring, Monmouth routed Kennesaw State 42-17.

“If you keep that triple on the sideline, they get very impatient,” Washington said.

Led by junior quarterback Jalen Fowler, the Aggies have gone more than 400 yards in total offense in their last three games and are averaging 38.6 points per game in that span. Balance has been the key word, as at least seven different wide receivers have caught passes in each game during this current winning streak.

Another potential advantage for A&T might come in the form of the kicking game, where the Aggies have excelled this season. Freshman place kicker Andre Brown nailed a 49-yard field goal, had four touchbacks and was a perfect 5-for 5 on extra points against North Alabama to earn his third straight Big South Special Teams Player of the Week award.

“This game is going to be a challenge, but I think we are up to,” said Washington. “We’re looking forward to it.”

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