Georgia Southern passed its first real test of the young 2018 season with a commanding victory over Massachusetts Saturday. It is too early to say that Georgia Southern is officially “back” but they are getting closer. They are looking more Georgia Southerny with each passing week.
UMass might not look like much on paper, they were only 4-8 last year and got waxed by Boston College last week. But this game mattered to Georgia Southern. 11 months ago UMass absolutely dominated Georgia Southern in all facets of the game on the way to a 55-20 victory. It was Tyson Summers’s last game as head coach. The next week the Chad Lunsford era began.
Fast forward 11 months and things could not be more different. A 34-13 victory represents a 56 point difference from last year’s result. Going from -35 to +21 in little less than a year, with virtually the same players, is not an easy task.
So what did we learn?
Shai Werts is the guy.
Put all doubts to rest. Werts put on a masterful performance vs. the Minutemen Saturday night. He had 237 yards of total offense and accounted for 3 touchdowns. 154 yards through the air, 83 on the ground. He looked comfortable in the pocket when he had to pass the ball and delivered some absolute dimes.
On the Eagles last drive before the half, he delivered an absolute strike, over a pair of UMass DBs, to Wesley Kennedy III on an out route for a 25 yard gain. He then hit Kennedy again on the very next play to get the Eagles down to the UMass 3-yard line, where Werts was able to punch it in.
Werts has taken some criticism from the Eagles fanbase for many things. For not making the right reads, for not pitching the ball enough, for being an inconsistent passer. Well, he answered all his critics in a big way. We all knew he was talented, we were just waiting for him to put it all together. With a play caller like Bob DeBesse helping him out, the sky is the limit.
Chad Lunsford runs a disciplined football team
Chad Lunsford is a players coach, we all know that. His players love him. From the outside looking in, sometimes it seems like he’s running an insane asylum. But make no mistake, Lunsford runs a tight ship. Georgia Southern had only 2 penalties in the SC State last week, and only 3 penalties this week. One of which was a questionable targeting call on Rashad Byrd.
This trend isn’t new either, during the first six games last year, the Eagles averaged 7.5 penalties a game for 68.5 yards per game after Lunsford took over that dropped to 5.3 penalties a game for a 39.5-yard average. Through eight games, Lunsford coached teams do not beat themselves.
Furthermore, on Georgia Southern’s first drive of the game, they were unable to convert a 4th & 2 on the UMass 10-yard line. Coach Lunsford absolutely chewed out the offensive line when they got to the sideline. The hogs responded on the very next drive with a bruising 9-play, 86 yard drive that ended with a 5-yard toss from Werts to Cam Brown for a TD.
Just because he’s a players coach, and it legitimately looks fun to play for him, does not mean he isn’t holding guys accountable. Quite the opposite.
Offensive Line Looked Better
Speaking of the offensive line, they looked a lot better. 334 yards rushing, 5.7 yards per carry looks a lot more like Georgia Southern football. The inside dive was there, the outside was there, Werts had time to throw. Can’t really ask for more. Lines take time to gel, especially when there are three new starters. This line will continue to get better the more they play together.
Attendance still underwhelming
It was a good Saturday. I don’t want to be Debbie Downer. I won’t spend too much time on this. But attendance was actually lower than it was last week. Official attendance was 15,071. The dip is real. This is yet another side-effect of Tyson Summers-itis. This program is still recovering, but it is getting better by the day. If this team keeps winning, attendance will improve slowly, I am sure of it.
The Eagles travel to Clemson to play the #2 team in the country. But Hurricane Florence could possibly throw a wrench into that plan. Flo is churning in the Atlantic and could slam into the Carolinas later this week. It’s projected to become a category-4 hurricane. Not good. Hopefully, it spins off in another direction.