A freshman QB getting his first start on the Plains against a top-15 ranked Auburn Tigers team Week 1 never sounded all that great on paper from the jump. Vegas made the Eagles 34 point underdogs for a reason. But if you want to catch a glimpse into the psyche of the average Eagle fan today, you would have thought we lost to Alabama A&M. It prompted a local paper to write this.
Former Eagle Head Coach, now at Army, Jeff Monken famously said during a halftime speech against Navy in 2010: “We’re Georgia Southern, we’re supposed to win!” That pretty much sums up what goes through the minds of Eagle fans, no matter who the opponent is.
Was it ugly? Yes. Eagles were only able to muster a historically low 78 yards of total offense against the Tigers. Shai Werts looked overwhelmed by the situation. The offense ran an incredibly conservative game plan, and while the defense held as long as it could, the body blows from Auburn eventually took their toll. Is there anything that can be salvaged from the wreckage? Let’s examine.
- 1st Quarter Defense – The game was 10-7 Auburn at the end of the 1st quarter, including an interception by Jay Bowdry, and a fumble-six by Tomarcio Reese. Not bad considering the offense had -4 yards of total offense and zero 1st downs at the end of the 1st quarter. Bowdry, in particular, led the Eagles in tackles with 12 tackles on the night. I almost want to put the whole defense in the “Good” category, but it’s hard to do that when the other team gets 535 yards of offense and score 41 points.
- Front 7 – The Eagles finished 95th in sacks and 125th in TFLs in 2016. To get three sacks and 8 TFLs against an excellent, experienced Auburn offensive line exceeded my expectations. Last year’s DL Coach Jimmy Lindsey is gone, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Costantini has taken over responsibilities there. His imprint was apparent from the jump. The young DL played physical, and the linebackers, DeLaRosa, Reese, Byrd, and Bradley were able to get into the Auburn backfield and make plays.
- Only three penalties and one garbage time turnover. Relatively mistake-free night in that regard.
- Monquavion Brinson is a player. He is a true sophomore, but he has NFL potential.
- Auburn, AL – Got to say, I enjoyed my first trip to the Plains at Jordan-Hare. Auburn fans were class acts. Treated Eagle fans with nothing but respect. Toomer’s lemonade is legitimately the best I had ever had. Beyonce-quality lemonade. Don’t have a bad word to say about that town.
- The Defense, the rest of the game – after the 1st quarter Auburn outscored the Eagles 31-0 to close out the game. The Tigers did not play starting RB Kamryn Petteway, and Kerryon Johnson left the game with what looked like a hamstring pull in the first half. Johnson still gained 136 yards on only 16 carries with a 60 yard TD in less than a half of work. The play Johnson got injured could have been his second touchdown until he pulled up lame. Third-string RB Kam Martin picked up where Johnson left off and had a nearly identical stat line of 14 carries for 136 yards including a 61 yard TD run. 535 yards of total offense by Auburn.
- Special Teams – replacing Lou Groza finalist and LA Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo is easier said than done. He’s already become a cult hero among the Charger fan base. Koo’s replacement Tyler Bass missed his lone FG attempt of 44 yards. Tyler Bass was the kickoff specialist last year, so he’s not exactly inexperienced, he’s going to settle down. I’ll chalk that up to the intimidating environment. Punter Matt Flynn, however, was the bigger concern. He averaged 38.9 yards a punt on a staggering 11 punts. There were some absolute shanks mixed in there that did not help the defense out at all.
1st Downs – 8
3rd down efficiency – 0-15
Total Yards – 78
Passing – 8
Yards per pass – 0.9
Rushing – 70
Rushing Attempts – 47
Yards per rush – 1.5
The Offense – No matter how you slice it, Saturday night was an abysmal offensive performance by the Eagles. Before you say “But it was No. 12 ranked Auburn” remember that Georgia Southern put up 401 yards of total offense on Ole Miss, 335 on Georgia Tech, and 370 against Western Michigan just last year. The Eagles have put up bigger numbers against better opponents in the past.
The revamped and retooled offensive line led by supposed guru Bob Bodine looked dreadful against the Auburn front 7. Werts looked overwhelmed, sure, but having Auburn defensive linemen in his face all day did not help the situation. 1.5 yards per rush is a death sentence for our offensive scheme. Only 8 passing yards for an entire game only further illustrates how inept they really were.
It was a very conservative game plan. Bryan Cook did not ask Werts to do too much. But on the other hand, there was a lack of adjustments from Cook in his first game as Eagles offensive coordinator.
Gone was the two-QB system that worked so well for Willie Fritz (and only so-so last year for Summers) that Eagle fans were complaining about for the past three seasons. Summers decided to hand the keys completely over to Shai Werts. I couldn’t help but think watching the game from the sidelines for a series might have done Werts some good. Que sera sera.
Where do we go from here?
Next week is the home opener against New Hampshire. The Wildcats are ranked #16 in the FCS Coaches Poll and come off of a win vs. rival Maine. Some Eagle fans are still bitter over the 2004 first round playoff loss to UNH on a cold, rainy December night in Paulson. It began a Paulson Stadium playoff drought that would last until 2010. That 2004 team (also my freshman year at GSU) is one of the great what-ifs in Eagle history. But that 2004 UNH team had 2006 Walter Payton winner Ricky Santos at QB and a young Chip Kelly as their offensive coordinator.
New Hampshire should be a regroup game at home ahead of a bye week. It gives the Eagles a chance to lick their wounds and make adjustments against a less challenging opponent. Warm-up for an interesting trip to Bloomington to play Indiana on September 23rd.
That isn’t to say this will be a cake walk. As you saw in college football the first week, FCS teams pulled off major upsets (Liberty, Howard, JMU, Tennessee Tech) over FBS teams. New Hampshire is a team that has been a fixture in the FCS playoffs. If the Eagles struggle or god forbid lose to UNH, then strap in folks. It will be DEFCON-1 in Statesboro.