By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Eagles all business vs. UMass
GS 2.jpg
Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts leaps over the goal line for his third rushing touchdown of the night in the Eagles' Sept. 1 victory over South Carolina State.

When the clock hit 0:00 last Saturday and secured Georgia Southern’s season-opening win over South Carolina State, a wave of Eagles flooded onto the field.

Players stayed to sing the alma mater and then high-five students. Coaches spurred on another celebration after a short regathering in the locker room.

And then the team got right back to work.

“Yeah. We celebrated,” GS head coach Chad Lunsford said during the postgame press conference shortly after last Saturday’s win. “After all this team went through last year, we’re absolutely going to celebrate wins. I’m proud of our guys and I want them to enjoy the win, but we’ll be back at work at 4:30 tomorrow.”

That timeline stated the first gathering for the team to evaluate film of their win, as well as getting a look at the Minutemen of Massachusetts, whom the Eagles will host tonight in a 6 p.m. kickoff at Paulson Stadium. Last season, an 0-5 Georgia Southern squad limped up to UMass and took a 55-20 loss that cost former head coach Tyson Summers his job less than 24 hours after the fact.

Lunsford took the reins from there and won two of the team’s final six games in 2017 before leading a team that looks to have started a rebound in the new season.

Fans may be quick to expect big results, and the team wants to do just that, but in a Week 2 game that offers a better barometer than the season opener as to how much the Eagles have improved from one season to the next, the players seem to be focused in simply on what can be done over the next four quarters.

“Last week was a good stepping stone, but we have more work to do,” Eagle center Curtis Rainey said. “It’s all about what we can do. There will always be a team each week that does things different that we have to plan for. Our main concern is that all of us are doing our best at what we do.”

Rainey was out in front of a line that paved the way for a good offensive effort in the opener. The points and yardage weren’t eye-popping, but the Eagles played turnover-free football and scored on six of their 10 drives, providing a solid foundation to build on as the season progresses.

On the other side of the ball the Eagles might have even more to prove this week as the defense looks to stifle a UMass offense that put up nearly 700 yards in last season’s meeting.

“We had a bad time up there last year,” GS linebacker Tomarcio Reese said. “We were grinding all through the summer. We enjoyed that first win, but then we looked right to our next opponent and what we have to do to win another one.”

UMass is tough to figure out through two games. The Minutemen did whatever they wanted in a season opener against an overmatched Duquense squad, but needed a pair of garbage time touchdowns just to get within 55-21 of Boston College last week. 

A much more veteran and seasoned Georgia Southern secondary should cut out many of the huge passing plays that sparked a runaway win for the Minutemen last year. If the Eagle defense stands up to the challenge, the game could be determined by the GS offense proving that it can once again consistently move the ball and score against a quality FBS opponent.

“We took the right step last week,” GS quarterback Shai Werts said. “I trust all of the guys. I believe in what we can do. It makes me and everyone more comfortable and that’s when you can make plays.”

The Eagle offense had its ups and downs last week. Werts set career highs with 163 yards rushing and three touchdowns, but no other GS runner broke 50 yards on the ground.

Georgia Southern didn’t do much with the inside zone run that offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse has said is the bread and butter of his scheme, yet that ineffectiveness could owe partly to an S.C. State squad that seemed to know it was coming and that sacrificed outside runs (which helped Werts build his statline) in order to stifle the inside running.

Werts was 5-for-7 through the air, yet no pass was completed more than five yards downfield.

Plenty of positives and plenty of points of concern, but for a team that was mired in a 2-10 season just a few months ago, there is nothing but positivity and high expectations heading into a date with UMass.

“I saw a disciplined football team last week,” Lunsford said. “I also saw a team with a lot of room to grow. This week will be a good test of how we stack up against another good team.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Paulson Stadium.