By chance, the 2018 schedule is working perfectly for a Georgia Southern football team re-writing the script of last year’s struggles.
A season-opening win over an FCS South Carolina squad was just that - a win for a team that didn’t do much winning in 2017. That was followed by an FBS victory over Massachusetts that also served to avenge one of last year’s losses. There was a quick hiccup at Clemson, but the Eagles scored an upset win in Sun Belt Conference play two weeks ago over Arkansas State before taking care of business as a prohibitive favorite last week against South Alabama.
Now it’s time to take the show on the road.
Georgia Southern (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) have positioned themselves as contenders for a conference championship in head coach Chad Lunsford’s first full season at the helm. The team will get its first conference road test tonight as it heads to San Marcos to take on Texas State (1-4, 0-2).
Not only will the Eagles be making their second longest road trip of the season, they’ll be doing so on a short week and - thanks to Hurricane Michael churning up through the Gulf of Mexico and into Georgia — also had to bump up their travel plans in order to avoid weather concerns.
“It’s just something we deal with,” Lunsford said. “You’re going to have some short weeks and this is our first plane trip and the first long trip for some younger guys. And, being in south Georgia, we’re used to having our schedule disrupted by the weather.
“The way we look at it is that we want to focus on the things we can control. We can’t do anything about the weather or the travel, but we can control how we focus and prepare for this game.”
Last week, the Eagles ran their Sun Belt record against South Alabama to a perfect 5-0. Georgia Southern can keep up a similar streak tonight as they defeated Texas State in both 2014 and 2015 before the Bobcats rotated off the schedule in each of the last two seasons.
While the Eagles are in the middle of a great redemption story, Texas State is still spinning its wheels.
The Bobcats committed to a total program rebuild in 2016 as they brought in head coach Everett Withers from FCS powerhouse James Madison. A revamped roster in 2016 led to expected growing pains, but a 2-10 record last season fell short of the team’s hopes and a 1-4 start to this season — including double-digit losses in three of four FBS matchups — has Withers’ seat getting a bit warm.
Those factors combine to make the Eagles a 17.5-point favorite despite the short week and road game, but Georgia Southern players and coaches alike know better than to take anything for granted.
“I think a lot of our guys remember how it felt last year when we weren’t winning,” Lunsford said. “But we kept working and by the second half of the season, we were hungry for a win and knew that we could do it if we played our best game.”
The Eagles will look to continue building an option offense that is slowly-but-surely becoming a dangerous unit. The ground attack finished just shy of 300 yards last week and Lunsford is confident that — once some costly penalties are eliminated — more explosive plays and higher scoring is right around the corner.
Defensively, the Eagles will look to take advantage of a Texas State offense that has already turned the ball over nine times this season. Georgia Southern is among the top teams in the nation, sporting a plus-10 turnover margin. Last week’s win was highlighted not only by four more turnovers, but also by a defensive touchdown and an interception return inside the 5 yard line that directly set up a touchdown.
Everything is bigger in Texas. And the Eagles hope that will hold true for their winning streak.