What: Georgia Southern vs. New Hampshire
Where: Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
When: 4 PM EST/3 PM CST
Let’s just start out with the obvious. Due to extenuating circumstances beyond any of our control, the game this Saturday will be moved to Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Hurricane Irma is set to become the strongest hurricane to hit the continental United States. As someone who lived in Florida as a youngster, and lived through Hurricane Andrew, I am familiar with the type of destruction a category 3+ hurricane can bring. The latest track for Hurricane Irma has it barreling straight up the Florida peninsula and into Georgia in the coming days. It’s already created a path of destruction all across the eastern Caribbean.
With the home opener for Georgia Southern scheduled for Saturday, Georgia Southern Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein had to make a call. New Hampshire (ranked 12th in the FCS Coaches Poll) had to know what travel plans to make, if any. With Georgia Governor Nathan Deal ordering a mandatory evacuation of coastal counties (shown above) and declared a state of emergency in 24 additional counties, it did not seem wise to go forth with the game as scheduled. Here is the evacuation plan for anyone planning I-16 to evacuate north. This was not going to be another Hugo Bowl.
That’s where UAB’s athletic director Mark Ingram stepped in. The Eagles will play the New Hampshire Wildcats in Legion Field at 4pm EST. It will be televised, as usual, on the WatchESPN/ESPN3 platform. What more incentive do you need to evacuate to Birmingham (likely out of Irma’s path) than that? No word on the Adrian Peterson tribute or Military Appreciation night, but I think it’s safe to say they’ll be rescheduled.
Back to football. Raise your hand if you remember 2004? Seasoned Eagle fans remember. “What could have been?” or something along those lines is usually the first thing that springs to my mind. This of course refers to the stunning upset pulled off by plucky upstart New Hampshire in the first round of the playoffs that year. In the driving, cold rain of early December, UNH capitalized on three Eagle turnovers to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
We didn’t know at the time that it would be the last playoff game in Paulson Stadium until 2010. For someone who attended the school from 2004-2008, that game is imprinted on my brain like a social security number.
That would begin a playoff run at UNH that would last for the next 13 years under Sean McDonnell’s leadership. We also did not know that the Wildcat’s starting QB Ricky Santos would go on to win the ’06 Walter Payton Award or that their offensive coordinator at the time was a young Chip Kelly. (Yes THAT Chip Kelly)
I had just gotten to see the glory of Georgia Southern football up close for the first time. The 2004 team was an offensive juggernaut. Led by Chaz Williams, Jermaine Austin, the late Teddy Craft, and a freshman Jayson Foster; they cut a swath of destruction across the Southern Conference that season. The 2004 loss to UNH marked a turning point for the program.
A year later head coach Mike Sewak would be fired after another stunning loss to current conference mate Texas State. The infamous Brian Van Gorder took his place. Then there was the Chris Hatcher era. We all know what happened, we don’t need to rehash it.
I have been looking forward to this chance at revenge, even if no one else has. Let’s look at the matchup.
As I stated in my recap of the Auburn game, the offense needs to get going. 78 yards of total offense is unacceptable no matter who the opponent is. If the pitchforks aren’t out yet, Eagle fans are certainly sharpening them. Tyson Summers needs to get a good ole’ fashioned Eagle blowout to stave off the doubters.
Let me be blunt. New Hampshire is a better coached team than Georgia Southern right now. Straight up, and I don’t even think it’s that close. UNH’s head coach Sean McDonnell has a 141-83 all-time record and has won the Eddie Robinson Award twice. He has taken the Wildcats to the playoffs 13 straight years. Tyson Summers is 5-8 in his 2nd year. But Summers can look to a coach like McDonnell for inspiration. McDonnell did not reach the playoffs with UNH until his six season and had a below .500 record up until that point.
If he can turn it around, so can Summers. The only thing is, Eagles fans don’t have that kind of patience. He doesn’t have five seasons.
New Hampshire Wildcats work primarily out of a single-back, three-wideout set. Their QB is Trevor Knight (different Trevor Knight) and while the junior from Nashua wasn’t the primary starter last season, he still threw for 1,713 yards and 14 TDs. He’s a threat through the air and with his legs. He logged 79 yards rushing against Maine in week 1, leading the team. He added an additional 158 and 2 TDs through the air. Evan Gray and Donald Goodrich join him in the backfield at RB and Malik Love, Neil O’Connor, and Rory Donovan are his primary threats at WR.
Keys to Victory
- Eagles have to establish the run at all cost. Wesley Fields and LA Ramsby have to get going. We saw zero Monteo Garrett against Auburn, even though he tore it up in fall camp. Shai Werts needs to settle down and stop dancing in the pocket. Let’s at least get into double, heck even triple digits in passing yards after mustering only 8 against Auburn. If Fields and Ramsby can’t get going by the end of the 1st quarter, you’ll see some grumbling already.
- Defense has to create turnovers. UNH likes to run a balanced attack out of single-back set, out of the shotgun. They will throw the ball a fair bit and they will do it efficiently. The defense did a good job forcing turnovers in the first half of the Auburn game. Forcing three overall including the Eagles only score, a Tomarcio Reese fumble-six after a Chris DeLaRosa sack of Jarrett Stidham. The secondary had a couple highlight reel plays. The defense is going to have to keep this up to help out the offense. Think 2010.
- Dominate the line of scrimmage. If the OL can dominate the defensive line of UNH and create some holes for the triple option, Eagle fans will settle down. Werts seemed to have very little time back there last week. Auburn defenders were purchasing lots in the Eagle backfield, they were back there so often. The veteran OL needs to step up plain and simple.