Season on the Brink: Georgia Southern Eagles Preseason Preview Part II

Part I: The Offense

While most of the attention last season was focused on the struggles of Georgia Southern’s offense, it was easy to forget about the defense. Tyson Summers was presumably hired because of the success he had as the Defensive Coordinator at UCF and Colorado State.  Despite having all-conference linebackers in Ironhead Gallon and Ukeme Eligwe, the defense was only just mediocre.

52nd in Scoring Defense – 26.5 ppg
58th in Rushing Defense – 167.1 ypg
69th in Passing Defense – 229.5 ypg
58th in Total Defense – 396.6 ypg
54th in Turnover Margin – +1
124th in Sacks – 11

This is a precipitous drop from 2015 when the Eagles were 21st in the nation in total defense (338.1/per game), 38th in scoring defense (23.5 ppg) and 31st in turnover margin (+6). Willie Fritz and Jack Curtis did not get the credit they deserved for the work they did on that side of the ball during their tenure in Statesboro. Forcing turnovers, in particular, is essential for teams that run the triple option because it allows them to jump out to a lead early and control the clock late. But the struggles were not all the defense’s fault.

The offense had trouble scoring at times and that put more pressure on an otherwise talented and experienced group. Gone are Gallon and Eligwe to the NFL, also gone are: LB William Bussey, CB Darius Jones, DE Bernard Dawson, and DTs Jay Ellison and Jonathan Battle. Those seniors accounted for 48% of the team’s tackles and 61% of their TFLs. That’s a lot of production. Should there be reason for optimism despite these massive losses? Well there are silver linings…

  1. Chris DeLaRosa/Logan Hunt/Darrius Sapp – the three returning starters on the front seven must have big seasons and be leaders to the younger guys. DeLaRosa, starting MLB, might be the best returning starter on defense. He is recovering from a high ankle sprain he suffered late last season.
  2. Secondary – Most of the secondary returns and is very talented. Joshua Moon and Jay Bowdry are hard hitters back there while Jessie Liptrot and Monquavion Brinson are coming off of productive freshmen campaigns. Moon said recently that “We talk a lot of smack about being the best unit on the team. We want to be the best unit in the country.” At least they are confident.
  3. Tyson Summers – Several of Willie Fritz and Jeff Monken’s recruits are gone. The defense is mostly made up of guys Tyson Summers recruited. His first two classes at Georgia Southern were highly ranked and defense-heavy. The theory being discussed around Eagle Nation is that with new Offensive Coordinator Bryan Cook controlling his side of the ball, it will allow Summers and Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Costantini more time to devote to the defense. Summers also brought over Olten Downs from UGA to be the Safeties Coach.

Let’s look at the depth chart:

*-Redshirt

DL
DE: Logan Hunt – JR, Deshon Cooper – JR*, Traver Vliem – FR*, JB Kouassi – SO, Randy Wade – FR*, Demetrice Lofton – FR, Brian Miller – FR
DT: Darrius Sapp – SR, Zack Copeland – JR, Ian Bush – JR, Ty Philips – SO, Chris Washington – SR, Shelby Townsend – JR

Logan Hunt and Darrius Sapp are the veteran anchors to the front four. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Costantini added DL Coach to his list of responsibilities, something he has experience doing at UCF, Southern Miss, UAB and UTEP. He hopes to get more out of a unit that produced only 11 sacks all season in 2016. Traver Vliem and Deshon Cooper had productive springs while Zack Copeland, Ian Bush, and Chris Washington will vie for the starting job in camp opposite of Darrius Sapp. Keep an eye on Brian Miller as well during Fall Camp.

LB
SLB: Todd Bradley – SO
MLB: Chris DeLaRosa – SR
WLB: Rashad Byrd – FR
Bench: Tomarcio Reese – JR, Tori Delesline – FR*, Ike Ukwu – SR, Jacory Belvin – JR, Alvin Ward – FR*

Chris DeLaRosa is the anchor in the middle. He’s been anointed the leader of the defense and accompanied Summers to Sun Belt Media Days last week. Joining DeLaRosa on his right and his left will be Todd Bradley and Rashad Byrd. Because of the nature of college football and the spread offense, outside linebackers have to be fast enough to cover the entire field. By all accounts, Bradley and Byrd can do just that. Both have drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff and fellow players for the work they put in during the offseason. But replacing Eligwe and Gallon won’t be easy.

Secondary
CB: Jessie Liptrot – SO, Kindle Vildor – SO
SS: Jay Bowdry – SO, Martial Washington – FR*
FS: Joshua Moon – JR, Sean Freeman – JR, Amari Thompson – FR*
CB: Monquavion Brinson – SO, Christian Matthew – SO
NB: Christian Matthew – SO, RJ Murray – JR, Sean Freeman – JR

The strength of the defense was a weakness going into last season. But trial by fire has produced quite a few gems. Bowdry and Moon have a growing reputation for being hard hitters. Talented redshirt freshman Martial Washington and Juco transfer Sean Freeman provide good depth at the safety spots.  The group of Liptrot, Brinson, Vildor, and Matthew are as good as a young group of CBs in the conference. Christian Matthew in particular stands at 6-3 175 and can be deployed at CB, Nickel, or even Safety. Matthew, Freeman, and RJ Murray could vie with Matthew for the Nickelback spot that gets deployed often in this spread-happy conference.

Special Teams
K: Tyler Bass – SO, Luis Martinez – FR*
P: Matt Flynn – SR
KR: Malik Henry – JR, Myles Campbell – SR
PR: Myles Campbell – SR, Quan Howard – SO
LS: Colton Piatt – FR*, Logan Cox – FR, Ryan Langan – FR

Special Teams lost Lou Groza finalist Young-Hoe Koo. Kickoff specialist Tyler Bass has big shoes to fill with Koo moving onto the NFL (Chargers). Luis Martinez could factor in if Bass struggles. Flynn returns as the punter. A combination of Malik Henry, Myles Campbell, and Quan Howard will most likely split returning duties.

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