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Eagles still shaking off some rust in Auburn loss

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Eagles still shaking off some rust in Auburn loss

Just a little less than 48 hours removed from a rough welcome into the 2017 season, Georgia Southern players and coaches were still shaking out some cobwebs.
The Eagles were far from favored in a road game against No. 12 Auburn, and the final score of 41-7 wasn’t the most shocking score coming out of the college football world. But a final line of 70 rushing yards on 47 attempts and just 78 total yards, combined with just eight first downs and an 0-for-15 mark on third down turned the hopes and dreams of the opening week into a nightmare.
“There are no moral victories, and losing isn’t acceptable for us,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “At the same time, we need to use this experience. You can’t waste the experience you gain, just because it came in a loss.”
Despite the 41 points allowed, the general consensus was that the Eagle defense held up its end of the bargain. Facing a veteran offensive line, bruising running backs and a high-profile transfer quarterback, the Eagles managed to slow down Auburn for much of the first half and totalled three takeaways — along with Georgia Southern’s lone touchdown.
On a team that features just eight seniors — not all of whom start — the defense is the younger of the Eagles’ two sides of the ball. Undersized and facing an even bigger disadvantage in the experience department, they mostly held their own.
“I was proud of our guys - especially the younger guys,” senior linebacker Chris DeLaRosa. “They played hard. Everyone played hard throughout the game. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
As for the offense, there were far fewer bright spots that could be found.
“I think that a lot of the pre-snap reads were the right one,” offensive coordinator Bryan Cook said. “We just didn’t execute from there. I also thought that we did a good job of keeping the ball secure and (aside from the final play of the game) didn’t turn it over against a very good defense.”
Other than that, the takeaways from the season opener are all about how to make the next 11 games on the regular season schedule look drastically different for the Eagle offense.
Cook commented that Auburn schemed to make the Eagles run right at the heart of its top-5 rated defense. All too often, Georgia Southern runners couldn’t avoid solid hits that took them down on first contact. And when the Eagles went outside, there were regularly too many unblocked defenders in pursuit, making a run upfield by quarterback Shai Werts or a pitch to a trailing back equally likely to fail.
In the passing game, Cook acknowledged that Werts’ eyes weren’t always in the right place, but qualified the criticism with confidence that the redshirt freshman will improve as he gets more game experience.
“I didn’t think we were going to set the world on fire,” offensive coordinator Bryan Cook said. “That said, I didn’t think it would be that bad. There’s a ton that we need to clean up.”
The anemic offensive output - which was the second-fewest total yards ever gained by Georgia Southern — served to amplify the sting of an opening loss. But a loss is a loss, regardless of how good or bad the final stats turn out.
And to paraphrase a popular coaching cliche, the only thing worse than having a team beat you is to dwell on it so much that the same team beats you again the next week.
“We have a lot to work on and a lot of places where we need to improve,” Summers said. “We also have to move forward. There’s a lot to learn from this weekend, but this is also the last time I plan to think too much about Auburn. Now it’s time to focus on New Hampshire.”
The Wildcats will come to town for the Eagles’ home opener, slated to kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday. Eagle fans with a long memory — or ability to hold a grudge — will be looking to pay back a 2004 FCS first round playoff loss dealt out by the Wildcats the last time they came to Statesboro.

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