What to Watch for When Georgia Southern Takes On South Alabama

A byproduct of the age we live in is that people have short memories. As technology advances, our attention spans get shorter. What happened four years ago, feels like ten. As a result, after only two disappointing seasons, fans start to forget who you are. Georgia Southern’s 2014 Sun Belt title feels like ages ago. People have already forgotten what Eagle football was all about.
Consequently, the sense of urgency to return to the upper echelon of the Sun Belt is high among the Eagles faithful. Chad Lunsford understands this intimately. Georgia Southern doesn’t put up with losing. This ship had to be turned around quickly.
So when Wesley Kennedy III took that reverse toss and raced down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown, all of Eagle Nation breathed a sigh of relief. The dark ages were finally over. Georgia Southern had taken down Arkansas State, consensus preseason favorites to win the Sun Belt and winner of 5 out of the last 7 SBC titles. The order had been restored in the universe.

The win brought the Eagles to 3-1, 1-0 in the conference. Georgia Southern has tentatively rejoined the elite in the Sun Belt Conference. But with the new victory, comes new challenges for Chad Lunsford, explicitly teaching his team how to deal with success.
Lunsford has made it a goal to celebrate every win. Coming off of a 2-win 2017 season, I understand that impulse. They haven’t had much success since 2015. The celebrations after beating Arkansas State looked epic. But now the Eagles have to reel in that emotion and refocus it towards their next opponent, South Alabama.
Here are the keys to a Georgia Southern victory:

Revenge Factor

The South Alabama Jaguars (1-4, 1-1) come to Statesboro Saturday with revenge on their minds.  The 52-0 loss they suffered last year in Paulson Stadium is fresh in their memory. The loss was so bad that it cost Jaguars coach Joey Jones his job two days later. USA is also Georgia Southern’s homecoming opponent and is 0-4 all-time against the Eagles, more salt in the wound. Jaguars Tight End Collier Smith wants payback:

South Alabama enters this match-up as a wounded animal. They’ve given up 52 points in consecutive weeks in losses to Memphis and App State. The Mountaineers walloped them 52-7 last week in Boone. The Jaguars are desperate for a win. A win places USA right in the thick of the SBC-West race. They will come out motivated.
The Eagles will have to be focused to come out of this with a win.

Georgia Southern’s Defensive Line

Georgia Southern’s defensive line had a coming out party vs. Arkansas State. Six sacks, including 3 from senior DE Logan Hunt. Wolves’ QB Justice Hansen put up a lot of yards passing, but it wasn’t easy. The Eagles were able to get pressure on Hansen all game. We’re starting to see the benefits of Scot Sloan’s 3-4 scheme. South Alabama likes to sling it around as well; Hunt, Phillips, Johnson, Cooper, Bush, Wade, and Vliem should be able to pin their ears back and chase Jaguar QB, Evan Orth.
We’ll find out if the defensive line’s efforts against Arkansas State was a fluke or part of a more significant trend.

Steve Campbell

I believe that South Alabama is not as bad as their record makes them out to be. They have faced a difficult schedule so far. Their losses have come from Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, Memphis, and App State. It hasn’t been easy for first-year USA coach Steve Campbell, but there have been some bright spots.
Campbell, who has never had a losing season in 19 years as a junior-college or college head coach, is known for being an offensive guru. His spread passing attack has already improved the Jaguars scoring output compared to 2017 (24.4 vs. 19.8 PPG).
USA’s starting QB Evan Orth has a 66% completion percentage and has thrown for 1,014 yards with 6 TDs and 2 INTs this season. Their best offensive weapon is WR Jamarius Way, who has 500 yards receiving and averages 14.3 yards a catch. Joining Way is dual-threat running back Kawaan Baker who has 337 yards from scrimmage and 8 TDs this season. Look for Campbell to employ Way and Baker in some creative ways to score points off of the tough Eagles’ defense.

Between the Tackles

The Eagles offensive line has taken their fair share of criticism from the fans and media so far this season. But considering that there are three new starters, I think they have done pretty well. Georgia Southern is 6th in the nation in rushing offense (272.5 yards per game). It’s even higher if you subtract the game against Clemson (333 ypg). Offensive lines take time to gel, and this one seems to be getting better by the week.
Still, most of the Eagles production has come from running it on the perimeter. Georgia Southern struggled again to get much production running inside against Arkansas State. For the option to work, you need to keep opposing defenses off balance. That means running between the tackles, as well as outside.
I want to see if the Eagles can have success on the dive this week. There really isn’t a better defense to do it against than South Alabama. The Jaguars are 117th nationally in total defense (501.8 yards per game), 120th in rushing defense (234.4) and 126th in scoring defense (44 points per game). Look for big numbers from the Eagle running game. Possibly more Logan Wright and Matt LaRoche.

Penalties/Turnovers

Despite a season-high 8 penalties by an over-caffeinated officials crew against A-State, Georgia Southern still has the 4th fewest penalties (17) and the 3rd fewest penalty yardage (135) in the country. They are also 6th in turnover margin. Chad Lunsford runs a tight ship. Eagles aren’t beating Eagles.
Conversely, South Alabama ranks next-to-last nationally with 51 penalties (three behind Kent State) and last among 130 FBS teams with 96.8 penalty yards per game. This is a sloppy and ill-disciplined ball club. Chances are, USA will make its fair share of mistakes in this game. Between an atrocious defense and the buckets of penalty yardage they give up every week, it’s up to Georgia Southern to capitalize.

Predictions

Georgia Southern 28
South Alabama 10
Attendance: 16,300
Georgia Southern is 4-0 against the spread so far this season. They enter this contest as -12 point favorites over South Alabama. Last week. We saw what happens when Eagle Nation shows up. Paulson Stadium was loud and rockin’, and it made a difference. It was still only 17,300 fans though. I would like to see numbers closer to 20,000 going forward. It still might be a few games before the fans really buy into the Lunsford resurgence. Perhaps with homecoming, Paulson gets north of 18K, but I remain skeptical.

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