For the first time in well over a year, Georgia Southern was the prohibitive favorite against an FBS opponent.
After playing well in an underdog role early in the season, the Eagles looked comfortable in playing the role of a team expected to win, dispatching South Alabama by a score of 48-13 Saturday afternoon at Paulson Stadium.
“We talked about how last week was a statement game,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “This week was our edge game. We wanted to prove that we could keep our edge after a big win and come out and get another one.”
Georgia Southern (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) rushed for 295 yards, passed for 99 more and spent much of the second half running away from the Jaguars (1-5, 1-2) as the Eagles continue to look like a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt.
Shai Werts went 5-of-8 through the air for 99 yards - including a 58-yard touchdown strike to Darion Anderson - and picked up 85 more yards on the ground. Monteo Garrett’s 91 rushing yards made him the fourth different Eagle to lead the team in rushing over the first five games of the season.
A 1-yard dive by Werts and his touchdown toss to Anderson gave the Eagles an early 14-0 lead, but it was an opportunistic Georgia Southern defense that really carried the weight in the first half. The squad forced a punt on the game’s opening drive and recovered a fumble on the second drive. The GS offense couldn’t do anything with those opportunities, but finally made good on another chance.
Monquavion Brinson is one of the top defensive backs in the Sun Belt and has been swatting away passes at an alarming rate, but the junior finally got both hands on the ball as he picked off his first pass of 2018 and returned it 30 yards to set up the Eagles’ opening touchdown.
“We feed off of each other,” Brinson said. “On defense, we want to make a big play to set up the offense. And when they go out there and put up points, it gets us up to go out there and keep things going.”
Each team had a touchdown negated due to a penalty in the first half, leaving the Eagles with a modest 17-6 halftime lead before catching fire over the final two quarters.
Georgia Southern took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 75 yards in just eight plays, capped when Wesley Fields found a seam and raced 27 yards for a touchdown.
The GS defense held firm at its own 39 to turn the Jaguars over on downs and the ensuing drive ended with Tyler Bass converting the second of his two field goals on the day. True freshman C.J. Wright forced a fumble that was recovered by Tomarcio Reese and the Eagle offense quickly went 39 yards for a touchdown to make it 34-6.
South Alabama answered with its only touchdown drive of the day as Evan Orth (19-of31, 197 yards) passed the Jags down the field and Tra Minter plunged in from a yard out. But Wesley Kennedy III returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the USA 35 and Fields ripped off a 25-yard touchdown run three plays later to push the Eagles farther in front.
“I think we made some good adjustments in the second half,” Werts said. “We stopped hurting ourselves with penalties and then we just took what the defense was giving us.”
The Eagle defense fired the final shot of the day and found the end zone for the first time this season when Alvin Ward Jr. intercepted Cephus Johnson and sprinted 28 yards for the final tally of the day.
With the win, the Eagles remain atop the Sun Belt’s East division. A short week and a long trip comes next as Georgia Southern head out to San Marcos, Texas for a Thursday night matchup at Texas State.