Last week most of the talk about Georgia Southern football revolved around the Eagles making a coaching change, as Doug Ruse replaced Bob DeBesse as offensive coordinator. The Eagle offense was efficient Saturday as they put up 20 points, and did not turn the ball over, but it was the Eagles defense who really stepped-up Saturday. The Eagles held Florida Atlantic to just a field goal, and forced four Owl turnovers in the Eagles 20-3 victory.
“I’ve been pretty pleased with the defense overall, as we have shown pretty good progress,” said Eagle defensive coordinator Scot Sloan. “We are starting to put some building blocks together, and we are definitely moving in the right direction. Feel like we have made gains on a weekly basis.
The Eagle offense lost a couple key players, but the Eagle defense has as well. The Eagles lost starting defensive lineman C.J. Wright, and starting linebacker Chris Harris to suspensions. Defensive lineman Reynard Elis led the defense with 18 tackles against Army, and then left the team. Starting safety Kenderick Duncan finally returned after an injury, had an interception against Georgia State and was starting to return to form, and then missed the Florida Atlantic game with a hip injury.
“I feel like the guys have done a great job overcoming adversity,” said Sloan. “They take a lot of pride in playing hard and fast on defense, and they aren’t concerned with who may or may not be out there on the field. They feel whoever is out there from an accountability standpoint will get the job done. They know some players rep counts are going to increase in certain situations, but we all have a job to do.”
Having spent the 2002-2006 season at Georgia Southern under then head coach Mike Sewak, Sloan was aware that the defense is usually not talked about at Georgia Southern unless things are going poorly. Sloan was eager to get back to Georgia Southern though as Coach Lunsford hired him as his defensive coordinator in 2018.
“I was proud that Coach Lunsford thought enough of me to hire me in 2018,” said Sloan. “We have coached together at numerous places in the past, and have a great relationship. When people watch our defense, I want them to be impressed by how fast and hard we play. I’m just happy to be able to put a product out on the field that Eagle Nation can be proud of.”
Since arriving at Georgia Southern the Eagles have made great strides on the defensive side of the ball. In his first season the Eagles led the nation in turnover margin with a +22 mark. This year the Eagles have forced a turnover in each of their last eight games, a total of 19. Georgia Southern is currently sixth in the nation with 20 forced turnovers, they are third in interceptions with Derrich Canteen leading the nation with five individually.
“It is something we talk about at all our meetings, and preach on the field,” said Sloan. “The more takeaways we create, the more chances we give our offense. It is something the placers are definitely cognizant of, and they get reinforced at practice on a rep-by-rep basis. The best way to create turnovers is to play physical at the ball itself, and you will see our players taking shots at the ball as well as trying to pull it out and create a fumble.”
Sloan came to Georgia Southern after spending eight seasons at Appalachian State. In his two years at Georgia Southern the Eagles are 2-0 against the Mountaineers, something Sloan has had a major part in game planning for on both sides of the ball.
“His familiarity with the coaches and players helps us on both sides of the ball,” said Lunsford. “He knows what they line up to do and tendencies on the defensive side of the ball, but having coached against their offense in practices and scrimmages he also knows what they like to do on offense. He can also talk to our offensive coaches and tell them how they tried to defend us when he was coaching there. If we have information or a connection with a team, we are playing we do a great job of trying to utilize that with good communication.”
“I don’t know how much of our success against Appalachian State the last two years is really me,” said Sloan. “I think it has more to do with our players, and the amount of hard work and focus they put in prior to those games. They have really locked in and embraced the rivalry piece of this.”
Saturday the Mountaineers come in with a record of 7-3, and many players still around that Sloan has coached. With senior Zac Thomas returning at quarterback, Sloan knows the Eagle defense will be tested.
“Having seen many of these players is definitely an advantage,” said Sloan. You aren’t wondering about their skill set as much if you have seen them day in and day out in practice. As always, they are committed to running the football, but with Thomas and some talented receivers we also know they can beat you through the air. They have eight senior starters on offense and we will have to play fast and hard in order to come out on top.”
The Eagles and Mountaineers are set for a 6:00 kickoff Saturday at Paulson Stadium.