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My Take - What a difference a system makes

Now we’re on to something.

First it was: "Yeah, but it was just Savannah State."

Then it was: "Yeah, but Navy and Georgia Southern have the same playbook."

After that it was: "Well, Coastal Carolina’s okay, but still hasn’t won a game."

All of a sudden, the Georgia Southern Eagles (3-1, 1-0 Southern Conference) knock off No. 10 Elon, and it’s finally safe to say: "Okay, maybe this team is starting to look legit."

It is important to note that Elon doesn’t have nearly the same defense it had in 2009 and, of course, lost the best wide receiver in the FCS to graduation, but GSU (especially in the second half) did what it wanted, when it wanted to the Phoenix and finally let its fans know that it really can play some football.

So what’s the biggest difference from a year ago?

The obvious answer is, "The option is back," which defensive tackle Roderick Tinsley proudly exclaimed Saturday after the 38-21 win.

But to me, the biggest difference between this team and the 2009 edition of the Eagles boils down to one big factor — weapons.

Sure, a lot of these kids, especially on the defensive side of the football, were around last season. There was a lot of the same talent on that team — J.J. Wilcox, Nico Hickey, Darreion Robinson, Mitch Williford and Tyler Sumner — just to name a few.

But even they showed little playmaking ability year ago.

What a difference a system makes.

All of a sudden, those kids are put in a position to make plays, the offensive line starts blocking, the defense consistently leaves them in good field position and the result is 508 yards of offense, 30 first downs, 38 points and a statement in the opening game of Southern Conference play.

Yes, the talent was there all along. Apparently all it needed was some execution, some toughness, some confidence and a system to utilize it.

It speaks volumes when Lee Banks (the de facto fourth-string fullback), Tobi Akinniranye (the de facto third-string fullback) and Nico Hickey (one of four slotbacks who carried the ball against the Phoenix) combine for 218 rushing yards.

All three were walk-ons, and none saw more than a glimmer of the field in 2009.

Throw in freshman Darries Robinson’s 92 rushing yards and transfer quarterback Jaybo Shaw’s knowledge of the triple option (and his passing ability) and it’s easy to see why this thing is starting to come together.

With an off week to let it soak in and a cool 12 days to heal up the bumps and bruises before the next game, it still remains to be seen whether all of that good stuff is a trend rather than an exception.

 

And now the bad news

Division I football in the state of Georgia is having an interesting year, and so far it seems like Georgia Southern may be trending in a different direction than everyone else.

The good news for Georgia (1-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) and Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) is that both teams play in a conference with an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game.

The bad news is that you’ve got to win the conference title to get it.

It’s been a bad year all around for the Bulldogs, whose three conference losses have them out of that conversation already. They’ve seen 10 players get arrested since the offseason and the suspension of wide receiver A.J. Green, and their running game – which was supposed to be their bread and butter with Washaun Ealey and Caleb King leading the way behind an experienced offensive line – has gained little ground and provided more turnovers than touchdowns.

As Green returns and freshman quarterback Aaron Murray gains experience and confidence, the Bulldogs could talent their way back to salvaging the season after a disastrous start.

The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, aren’t in as bad a situation as it seems.

The loss to Kansas was a shock, but in the ACC, no team has proven itself to be head and shoulders above the rest. Paul Johnson has shown time and time again the ability to have his kids ready to play after a letdown, and with a little help from the rest of the league, Tech could still be in the conversation in November.

Oh yeah, then there’s that "other" GSU.

Georgia State (2-2, FCS Independent) has been all over the map.

To be honest, they’re only bad loss so far in their inaugural season was to Lambuth. They took Jacksonville State to overtime after JSU beat Ole Miss and won over Campbell Saturday. The real test continues for the Panthers as they face three-straight upcoming weeks of FCS competition.

But so far, they’ve got nothing to be (too terribly) ashamed of.

 

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

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