Georgia Southern’s Midterm Report Card

I can’t believe it, but we are already halfway through the 2018 season. Six games down, six more to go. By all accounts, Georgia Southern has far exceeded expectations. While the ugly 15-13 win over Texas State Thursday brought up a lot of old anxieties among the Eagle fan-base, 5-1 is a whole heck of a lot better than 0-6. One win away from bowl eligibility. Considering where we were last year at this time, I’d much rather complain about a win than a loss.
Now, I’m a teacher by trade, and at the midway point of the semester, it’s time to hand out report cards. When you grade your students, it’s important to do it in a vacuum. What they did the previous school year, in another class, doesn’t factor in. What matters is the quality of the work and effort they put in this year. Otherwise, Georgia Southern would get an A+ across the board from me. Going 7-17 over the past two seasons really makes you appreciate winning.
Stats provided by teamrankings.com

Offense  – C+

Points Per Game: 68th, 26.4
Rushing Offense: 9th, 245.6 ypg
Total Offense: 114th, 330.6 ypg
Passing Offense: 129th, 85.0 ypg
The offense, led by QB Shai Werts, has shown flashes of brilliance, particularly in the UMass and South Alabama games. It’s back in the top 10 in the nation in rushing offense, inching ever-closer to the magical 300 ypg mark. It’s middle of the pack in points per game. Bob DeBesse is a massive upgrade as a play-caller compared to what we’ve had the past two seasons.
That said, there is room for improvement. The offense struggled to move the ball against Texas State, one of the worst teams in the country. Same could be said of the SC State and Clemson games. The offensive line play has been inconsistent. One game Wesley Kennedy looks like the next Percy Harvin, the next he is almost invisible.
Bob DeBesse chose to call a conservative game Thursday for obvious reasons. Short week, long travel and Hurricane Michael certainly factored in. The offense is miles better than last year, but there are many miles left to go to get back to 2014 levels of production. Work in progress.

Defense – A

Scoring Defense: 22nd, 19.6 ppg
Total Defense: 64th, 396.0 ypg
Rushing Defense: 59th, 154.0 ypg
Passing Defense: 85th, 242.0 ypg
Turnover Margin: 2nd, +11
I can’t speak highly enough about the defense. Scot Sloan has done a superb job of implementing his scheme and maximizing the talent he has. This defense is on pace to rival the 2015 and the 2010 defenses. They almost single-handedly secured the win against the Bobcats.
While the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy sometimes gives up its fair share of yards, they clamp down when it matters. The defensive line, led by Logan Hunt’s 4 sacks (tied for 1st in the SBC), is 44th in the country in sacks per game. The linebackers have been beset by injuries, but the players that have stepped in, have played superbly, exhibited by Chris Harris’s 4th and Goal stop that ended up saving the game. The secondary is as good as advertised. Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor make big play after big play, game after game.

The Eagles will go as far as the defense takes them this year. Their spectacular play has given the offense precious margin of error during their development. We’re going to need a huge game out of the defense to give us a puncher’s chance against App State October 25th.

Special Teams – A

Punting: Magill Buerle, 40.08 ypa
Kicking: Tyler Bass, 7/7 FGs, 20/20 XP
Returns: Wesley Kennedy, 12.3 PR, 23.0 KR
Nothing to complain about here. Lou Groza watchlist member Tyler Bass hasn’t missed a kick so far. 23 of his 33 kickoffs have been touchbacks. There was apprehension about the punter position before the season but Magill Buerle has stepped up and has done a solid job. He’s middle of the pack (70th) in average per punt. Wesley Kennedy has been nothing short of dynamic as a returner. He is 21st in the nation total return yards (327).

Coaching – A-

This is one area where I can’t help but measure against 2017. For Chad Lunsford to take a 2-10 squad, and turn them into a conference title contender, this fast is entirely remarkable. These are mostly the same players we had last year, it’s not like he signed up a bunch of JuCo transfers. Lunsford merely has squeezed out more effort and discipline from the same squad. Despite a rough couple of weeks, Georgia Southern is still 44th in penalties per game. The +11 turnover margin has played a gigantic role in the turnaround.
While I privately wonder how long he can keep up the locker room celebrations after wins without diminishing returns, I can’t complain about the results. The staff he has assembled is a 100% upgrade over what the Eagles had last year. My only criticism is that the playcalling can be a bit vanilla at times. In the Texas State game, I saw more dives than a Brazillian soccer match, and there were several 4th and shorts that Lunsford elected to punt/kick rather than go for it. But after a weekend where there were several upsets, it looks prudent in retrospect.
We’re one win away from bowl eligibility, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.

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