That 3-0 start for Georgia Southern this season seems like a blip from the distant past.
Since the hot start, the Eagles have fallen apart. Three straight losses ensued, and while the bleeding was momentarily stopped with a win out in New Mexico last week, Georgia Southern endured its most discouraging loss of the season Thursday night, falling 34-10 at the hands of archrival Appalachian State.
A loss - and even a group of losses - could be excused with the tough schedule that the Eagles have endured, but a continuing trend now has the entire fan base on edge.
WHERE’S THE OFFENSE?
Not much was said when the Eagles were dominant, yet less explosive than usual in a season-opening win against Savannah State.
A few more concerns popped up the next week when costly turnovers turned what could have been an easy win over South Alabama into a close one. More of the same followed in the UL Monroe game as Eagle miscues forced their special teams to save the game with a last-second field goal block.
Since then, the turnovers haven’t been the problem so much as the general lack of production.
The Eagles were rendered mostly punchless against Western Michigan and Arkansas State. They rebounded a bit against Georgia Tech, but struggled against a weak New Mexico State unit.
THE OTHER SHOE DROPS
All of that led to Thursday night’s meltdown.
Georgia Southern managed just 159 yards of total offense, 107 of it coming in the fourth quarter after Appalachian State had already started to pull away. The Eagles moved the chains all of three times in the first three quarters and had nine possessions that ended - via turnover or punt - after three plays or fewer.
“It’s hard to say what the problem is,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “We’ve tried to strip things down to the basics. The fact of the matter is that we aren’t establishing the inside run. When that happens, we can’t set the perimeter, and we can’t sit back and sling it around all night.”
The Eagles managed just 2.9 yards per play for the night and much of that was skewed upwards by a late drive mounted with Appalachian State’s reserves on the field.
Throughout the season, the Eagles have been prone to draw the attention of officials.
Georgia Southern was only whistled for four penalties Thursday, but they were costly. One flag negated a first down run - a seemingly minimal setback when not thinking about how tough any yardage was to come by for Georgia Southern.
But the back-breaker came early in the second half. Appalachian State had driven into GS territory, only to see a 3rd-and-2 blown up by a bad snap that lost 22 yards. When the Mountaineers attempted to put the ball away, Georgia Southern was flagged for roughing the kicker.
The penalty extended the drive with an automatic first down and - even though the GS defense kept Appalachian State out of the end zone - the drive led to a field goal that gave App a lead it never relinquished.
ADVENTURES IN OFFICIATING
None of the calls made by the men in stripes played a direct role in the game’s outcome, but Thursday’s officiating crew didn’t win itself any confidence moving forward. In a bizarre end to the first half, nearly 10 minutes of real time were required to play the final 10 seconds of game time.
To begin the fun, officials saw a Appalachian State player’s helmet fall off during a play with eight seconds remaining and wrongly called for an automatic 10-second runoff of the clock to end the half. Both squads were nearly in their locker rooms before the officials reversed their decision.
When play resumed, ASU quarterback Taylor Lamb rushed up the middle and the officials ruled that time had expired. A review led to the teams once again being called out of the locker room to play two more seconds.
By that time, ESPNU had already segued its broadcast into the halftime show.
“It’s definitely the strangest end of a half I’ve ever been a part of,” Summers said.
The Mountaineers came up short on a field goal, only to realize that Georgia Southern had called for a timeout. The field goal unit lined up again and the Eagles came up with a block, providing the same halftime score that all had assumed would be the case 10 minutes prior.
Thanks to the midweek game, the Eagles will have a few extra days to lick their wounds.
They’ll need them.
After waiting 40 days between home games - stretching from the UL Monroe contest to Appalachian State - the Eagles hop right back on the road. Next Saturday, they’ll play their final non-conference game of the season as they travel to Oxford, Miss. to take on Ole Miss.