- First of all, thank goodness, we made it. The offseason is over. Football is back. Beer is colder. Brats are tastier. The work week seems to move a bit faster. Life is better when it’s football season, it just is.
Georgia Southern kicked off it’s 2018 campaign with a 37-6 win over the South Carolina State Bulldogs Saturday night. Shai Werts led the way with a career-high 163 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The defense was suffocating, holding SC State to only 151 total yards. Remember, this team had to wait until November to get its first win last season. Getting 50% of last year’s win total in Week 1 feels nice.
That said, reaction to the victory was mixed among the Eagle fanbase.
It was a methodical win, not very flashy by any means. Eagles’ fans have high expectations. My first home game as a freshman at Georgia Southern was an 84-3 shellacking of Johnson C. Smith. Eagles’ fans want to do that to every team they play.
There were some positives, but there’s also plenty of room for improvement. Here are my three positive and three negative takeaways from Saturday night’s win.
Aside from one scoring drive that SC State had in the third quarter, the Bulldogs were unable to do much on offense. Georgia Southern’s pass defense allowed only 31 yards through the air on 2-10 passing from a trio of Bulldog quarterbacks. The run defense was nearly as good, giving up 120 yards on 42 carries, a 2.9 ypc average. The defense was also able to force two turnovers. Tomarcio Reese led the way with 10 tackles and an interception, followed by Monquavion Brinson, Rashad Byrd, and Joshua Moon with six tackles each. The defensive line was able to get penetration into the SC State backfield regularly and ended the night with 5 TFLs and 3 sacks. The transition to a new scheme was seamless. Scot Sloan’s 3-4 defense looked stout, which is good. It might need to carry most of the weight until the offense finds its footing.
Wesley Kennedy III
Kennedy was fantastic. The sophomore from Savannah finished with 158 all-purpose yards, coming four different ways. He had 67 yards on punt returns, 61 yards on kickoff returns, 22 yards rushing and 8 yards rushing. Kennedy might be the next great Georgia Southern return man. There were a couple returns where he was maybe a half step away from taking it to the house. This Eagle offense has to figure out how to get the ball in his hands more (along with Matt LaRoche, Monteo Garrett, and Logan Wright).
Shai Wert’s feet
Werts had his best ever game on the ground. 163 yards rushing and three scores. He is dynamic in the open field no doubt. The most effective play the Eagles had on offense was when Werts ran the ball himself, primarily on the outside. He looked more comfortable back there. Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse said only about 30% of the offense has been installed, so the playcalling was conservative to say the least. When Werts had decent blocking, he took advantage of it.
Werts still needs to improve
While Shai Werts is great running the ball, there are still some glaring weaknesses in his game. He was 5/7 for only 29 yards through the air. He still struggles to make the right reads and pitches that are necessary in this system. It takes a certain amount of swagger to be a QB in a triple option system. Kevin Ellison had it, Jerick McKinnon had it, Jaybo Shaw had it. We didn’t see the triple option Saturday night, it was maybe a 1.5 option at best. There are going to be times where Werts relying solely on his own God-given talents won’t be good enough. The schedule is about to get a lot tougher. Perhaps Bob DeBesse expanding the playbook will help. Time will tell.
To be fair, the offensive line didn’t do Werts many favors. SC State was in the Eagles’ backfield all game. The inside dive was nowhere to be found. They simply weren’t firing off the ball. There have been some injuries up front for sure. Ryan Northrup and Drew Wilson are out. It’s going to take time for the new guys to gel as a unit. However, when I look back at 2014’s opener against NC State, where the offense put up 438 yards of offense on an ACC school, on the road, with a new head coach, their first ever game at the FBS level, and compare it to the 348 yards the Eagles got today, I get depressed. It starts and ends with the offensive line. It has deteriorated over the past four years and the offense is going to continue to struggle until it is addressed.
The official attendance was only 15,260. I’m a little disappointed in Eagle Nation. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen for a home opener. I suppose a 7-17 record over the past two years will do that. Don’t blame the opponent either. We’ve played tomato-cans on opening day before that drew more than 15,000 fans. The upper deck looked mostly empty on the broadcast. The home opener used to be a guaranteed sell-out in Paulson, not anymore. This can’t be good for the athletic department’s bottom line.
Next opponent: Georgia Southern (1-0) plays UMass (1-1) at 6 p.m. next Saturday at Paulson Stadium. Game will be broadcast on ESPN+. UMass is coming off of a 55-21 loss at Boston College.