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Struggling Eagles visit reeling Gators at Swamp

Struggling Eagles visit reeling Gators at Swamp

Struggling Eagles visit reeling Gators at Swamp


    With three weeks left in the season, Georgia Southern had a disappointing 4-4 record and was riding a two-game losing streak as it prepared to play Western Carolina.
    It would have been easy for the Eagles to go through the motions, but quarterback Jerick McKinnon said the team’s goals for its final three games were pretty simple
    “We’re taking the approach that if we beat Western Carolina and Elon we’ve won a championship,” McKinnon said, “and our game against Florida will be our bowl game.”
    The Eagles took care of business against the Catamounts and Phoenix, winning both games handily, to insure themselves of a winning season
    Georgia Southern (6-4) and McKinnon will now play their mythical bowl game at 2 p.m., today at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., when they meet a struggling Florida (4-6) team which is attempting to avoid its first losing season since 1979.
That appears to be an impossible assignment.
    After playing Georgia Southern, which it is heavily favored to beat, the Gators close the season against No. 2 Florida State, and no one is giving them a shot at defeating the high-octane Seminoles.
    This will be the final game of McKinnon’s career, and he will be playing it at the site of where he saw his first college football game. As a youngster McKinnon would trek to The Swamp to see his older brother, Lester Norwood, play for the Gators.
    Norwood, a defensive back, lettered four seasons, and is the only defensive back to start as a true freshman under coach Steve Spurrier.
    “He was a good player,” McKinnon said. “I enjoyed going down there and watching him play. And, no Florida did not recruit me.”
    It will also be Georgia Southern’s final game as an FCS team. The Eagles are moving to the Sun Belt Conference and the FBS level next year. As a transition team Georgia Southern was not eligible for the Southern Conference championship or the FCS playoffs this year.
    Needless to say this has been a disappointing season for both Georgia Southern and the Gators, who were 11-1 last year in Coach Will Muschamp’s second season. UF is currently on a five-game losing streak.
    Both teams have been beset with injuries to key players, but the impact has been greater on Georgia Southern which has 22 fewer scholarship players.
    “I’ll guarantee you the backups they’ve had to run in there are better than our backups,” coach Jeff Monken said.
    An example of how the Eagles have struggled with injuries this season was last week’s game at Elon. The participation chart showed 19 freshmen and 14 sophomores played with freshmen accounting for all 38 points.
    Monken is under no illusions about the challenge his team is facing.
    “We’re going to go and try to win the football game,” Monken said. “It’s going to take a great effort on our part. This is going to be a tremendous challenge for us to go down there and play well enough to win. They’re going to be the most talented team we’ve faced all year. Our kids know what an opportunity it is. We’re going to have to play a practically perfect football. No missed tackles, no missed assignments, don’t turn the ball over.
    “We’re going to have to get some things go our way.”
    McKinnon did not play at Elon last week as he rested a sprained ankle suffered in the Appalachian State game. Ellison played quarterback and had 267 yards total offense, 163 rushing. It was good enough to earn him SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors.
    McKinnon needs 75 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark rushing. Ellison has 768 yards rushing and has completed 41 of 76 passes for 756 yards.
    It will also be a special day for senior linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck who played high school football at Buchholtz High School in Gainesville.
    “It’s a dream of mine to play in The Swamp,” Oehlbeck said. “To play my last college game in my hometown is pretty special.”
    A starting linebacker, Oehlbeck is Georgia Southern’s second leading tackler with 76, six behind fellow linebacker Edwin Jackson.
    And, Monken has a Florida connection, too. His wife, Beth, received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Florida.

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