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Eagles soar over SSU

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Eagles soar over SSU

After relieving Georgia Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw, quarterback Jerick McKinnon stretches to finish a 20-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Saturday.

            It was the first time Georgia Southern ran the triple option in four long years, but as the Eagles knocked off visiting Savannah State 48-3 in the season opener Saturday at Paulson Stadium, that wasn’t the only first.

            Not by a long shot.

            The 45-point margin in Jeff Monken’s first game as the head coach was the largest by any Georgia Southern head coach in a career opener.

            Not that he thought his Eagles played particularly well.

            “I was just so glad to get a win just to get the season going. It’s a lot easier to correct mistakes and really go in there and be hard on them about things that you’re displeased with when you win,” Monken said. “I think they’re more receptive to the criticism, and there’s going to be a lot to coach, a lot to correct from this game. The score was not indicative of how poorly we played. We really didn’t play a good football game. But 48’s more than three and I’m glad we won the football game.”

            First-career rushing touchdowns were scored by junior Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw (7-for-10, 109 yards, 16 carries, 65 yards), true freshman quarterback Jerick McKinnon (3 carries, 47 yards), true freshman fullback Robert Brown, Lamar Brown, J.J. Wilcox and Tobi Akinnirayne.

            In fact, Brown had 20 carries for 120 yards, marking the first time a GSU freshman ran for over 100 yards in his first-career start since Adrian Peterson rushed for 135 against Elon in 1998.

            Brown racked up most of his yardage in the second half after his third-quarter fumble set up SSU’s only points of the evening – a 31-yard field goal by Derek Williams..

            “I felt like I could have done better,” Brown said about his first-career game. “When I fumbled, I felt like I let my team down. That’s another reason why I came out in the second half going harder than I did in the first half.”

            The 11 different Eagles who ran the ball in the game matched the total number of players to run the football on the team during the entire 2009 season.

            It was also the first time GSU rushed for over 400 yards (431) for the first time since rushing for 512 against Coastal Carolina in a 42-34 win at Conway, S.C. on Sept. 15, 2007.

            The Eagles finished with 540 total yards on Saturday to SSU’s 172.

            True freshman defensive end Josh Gebhardt recorded his first-career sack in the game, one of four by GSU.

            “We had a couple of first-half jitters, but we’re going to continue work,” Gebhardt said. “This defense is coming together, and we want to be one of the best in the SoCon.” 

            Savannah State started with all the momentum, but it didn’t last long.

            The Tigers took the opening kickoff, a touchback by GSU kicker Billy Greer, and marched it 56 yards highlighted by runs of 30 and 11 yards by running back Justin Babb.

            A nine-yard loss on a backwards pass by quarterback A.J. Defilippis was all she wrote for the drive, as the Tigers went on to finish the first half with only 23 offensive yards. Three tackles for loss by sophomore defensive tackle Brent Russell, including a pair of sacks, led the Eagles’ defense in the first half. Russell finished with a team-leading five tackles (three for loss).

            Compare the Tigers’ 23 first-half yards to GSU’s 218, and it was easy to see how GSU cruised to a 27-0 lead at the break.

            The Eagles scored on every first-half drive.

            It started with a 39-yard field goal by Adrian Mora.

Brown punched in his first collegiate score on the second drive with a two-yard plunge, and Shaw punched in a one-yard score on 4th-and-goal to make it 17-0 in the second. The Eagles were 2-for-2 on fourth down attempts, scored each of the six times thy reached the red zone, and were 7 of 12 on third-down conversions. They punted only once, and Brown’s fumble was the only turnover.

            “We didn’t have any fumbled pitches, and that’s one thing we’ve improved on coming out of camp,” Shaw said. “The first team didn’t have any (problems on) center-quarterback exchanges, so that was a big improvement, too.”

            Another SSU three-and-out was answered on the following GSU drive when sophomore Lamar Brown took an option pitch six yards to the house, and Mora’s second field goal of the contest – a 34-yarder with 12 seconds remaining in the first half – rounded out the first-half barrage.

            Announced attendance was 20,430.

            The Eagles travel to Annapolis, Md. to face Navy Saturday at 3:30 p.m.


            Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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