The Georgia Southern Eagles got their 2018 Sun Belt schedule off right with a 28-21 victory over 2017 Sun Belt runner-up Arkansas State. The Eagles evened the all-time series at 2-2 after the last two seasons’ losses to the Red Wolves and the 1986 victory in the 1-AA National Championship Game.
We’re a few days removed from the game, so I’m not here to bore you with a detailed recap. Instead, I’m just going to go over some things I liked and didn’t like about this one.
With moving houses, lack of ESPN+, and other complications over the last few weeks, this weekend’s game was the first time I’ve been able to sit and watch a Georgia Southern football game in full. That’s also a reason I haven’t been able to join with Nick on writing about the Eagles for this site much since it was first launched. So, these are some pretty fresh observations.
Things I Liked:
Suffice to say, this team is leaps and bounds above where they were when Chad Lunsford took over the program mid-way through the 2017 season. The defense under Scott Sloan has been lights out in non-P5 games, and even did a good job of keeping Clemson in check for much of the first game of that game. On offense, Bob DeBesse’s system has slowly been progressing through the weeks and getting better with every passing game. The motivation of the team and their love for Lunsford can’t be overstated in the resurgence of Eagle Football. You can overcome a lot of difficulties when you have a coach whose players go this nuts for him.
The difference in 2018 Shai Werts and 2017 Shai Werts is remarkable. It takes time to get the intricacies of the option down, and at times Werts looked too hesitant and too keep-happy on pitch plays last year. With few exceptions, I saw a Werts Saturday night against the Red Wolves who I’d say made the correct choice far more times than he made a poor choice. The fact that there were no fumbles on pitches in the stAte game speaks volumes towards Werts’ decision-making with the ball in his hand.
I could really just say the entire defense as a whole for this one. For a team dealing with so many injuries at the linebacker spot, the Front 4 really stepped up. They held the Red Wolves to 117 total yards rushing and that’s an impressive stat. Coming away with 6 sacks, 3 by Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week Logan Hunt alone, the defensive line set the tone for this game early with the 4th down stops and were a huge part of the win.
Is it a stretch to say that were he playing for a P5 team that Brinson would be in the Thorpe Award conversation? Probably, but not by much. Brinson is a shut-down corner for the Eagles and is a huge part of the Eagles 2018 defensive success.
Lack of Turnovers:
I already mentioned no fumbles by Werts or the pitch man, but that extends to everyone else touching the ball, too. The Eagles didn’t turn the ball over at all in this one and haven’t been giving it away much the entire season, either. Fumbles can be typical in an option offense given how many times the ball is flying backward through the air, but holding on to the football and making good choices on pitches will go a long way to winning close games and preventing bad losses.
Things I Didn’t Like:
The Eagles had almost as many penalties in this game alone than they’ve had the entire season. The holding penalties were especially troublesome as they killed some big games at crucial points. I don’t know if the Sun Belt refs were just calling it closer in a conference game or what, but it’s strange to me that a team that didn’t hold the ball that much against Clemson’s practically NFL defensive line had to hold so much against Arkansas State.
I’m not a huge fan of having to pay ESPN for games that were free on WatchESPN last year. Plus, the broadcasts are incredibly sterile. You really get no idea of the crowd noise and engagement.
Lack of Passing:
It wasn’t really needed, but I would like to see a few more passes. Particularly wheel routes such as the one that led to Wesley Fields’ touchdown. But, then, that’s because I just love the Wheel Route. I can’t really complain too much when the Eagles still put up almost 350 yards on the ground on a conference foe and won the game with only one (official) completed pass. However, there will always come a game when the running game will struggle and the passing game will have to step up.
It’s impossible not to like where things stand right now. The Eagles are favored in every remaining game outside of the App State contest according to ESPN’s FPI. That’s a far cry from the predictions of all prognosticators at the beginning of the season. Even if the Eagles lose a game or two of the ones they’re predicted to win, it’s hard to see the Eagles not going Bowling this season. Of course, Bowling isn’t the primary objective right now. Winning the Sun Belt is. To do that, the Eagles will have to win that one game they’re currently predicted to lose: App State. Hopefully, the Paulson Stadium crowd* will be loud and raucous and get the Eagles the W.
I think it’s safe to say that the Georgia Southern administration knocked it out of the park in recognizing what Chad Lunsford could do for the team and for the program. In him, they tabbed exactly the type of coach TK was searching for back in 2015 when Willie Fritz departed: someone who loves the school, wants to be here, wants to win big, and can get the fans, alumni, and students involved.
It’s been a fun ride so far. I’m predicting the rest of the season will be pretty fun, as well, and we’ll still be playing in some capacity following the Georgia State game on 24 November.
*Edited thanks to a comment reminding me that the App game is at home this year.