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Eagles secondary look to shut down Panther passing game
Georgia Southern safety Jay Bowdry (26) and cornerback Jessie Liptrot (30) tackle Mississippi tight end Evan Engram (17) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. - photo by Associated Press

Georgia Southern, unlike any season in recent memory, has struggled to run the football in the second half of the season.
    Uncharacteristically the Eagles are averaging only 223 yards per game—still good enough to lead the Sun Belt Conference, but sub-par by Georgia Southern standards—and much of this can be attributed to a young offensive line that has only one senior, center Andy Kwon, among its starters.
    With the focus on the offense’s struggles on the ground kind of lost in the shuffle is a secondary that is one of the youngest in FBS, and certainly the youngest in the conference.
    That secondary has been tested by skilled quarterbacks such as Chad Kelly at Ole Miss and Taylor Lamb at Appalachian State. It gets another strong test at 2 p.m. Saturday when it faces Georgia State at the Georgia Dome in a make or break game.
    Panther quarterback Conner Manning is coming off one of the best games of his career, a 422-yard effort against Louisiana Monroe in a losing effort. Georgia State had three 100-yard receivers in that game, a school record first.
    After the game Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb fired Coach Trent Miles who was 9-38 in his fourth season. He was replaced on an interim basis by quarterbacks and receivers coach Tim Lappano.
    Georgia Southern Coach Tyson Summers said not to expect any major changes or shakeups by Georgia State, especially on offense. Not with only two games remaining in the season, and with the primary offensive coach in charge.
    What that means is the football will be flying through the air, and the young Eagle defenders will be facing the second best group of receivers they’ve seen this year after Ole Miss.
    Summers believes his group will be up to the task.
    “Each week the two positions where we have a tremendous amount of youth and inexperience is in our offensive line and secondary,” Summers said. “I think they (secondary) have done better than I thought they would.
    “They have worked their tails off. If you watch the Appalachian State game, for example, from a passing standpoint we’re all over people. The catches App State had were not blown coverages or somebody three or four yards off a guy. We were playing as tight a coverage as we could.”
    The Eagles will start freshmen Jesse Liptrot and Jay Bowdry, sophomore Joshua Moon and senior Darious Jones against Georgia State. Their backups are freshmen Monquavion Brinson and Christian Matthews, sophomore Sean Matthews and senior Vegas Harley.
    “I think we’ve gotten better as the season has gone on,” Moon said. “We’ve got a lot of inexperience, but I think we’ve got good players who work hard and want to get better.”
    Georgia Southern finds itself having to win its last two games to get bowl eligible, and that has been a tough pill for Moon to swallow.
    He was a key reserve on last year’s Go Daddy Bowl team, and in high school he played on a 15-0 Class AAAAA state championship team at Creekside. Losing comes hard.
    “I had about 15 offers coming out of high school,” Moon said. “I came down on my visit the night they played Appalachian State (2014) and had a great time. I committed that night and never gave going anywhere else any consideration.
    “The atmosphere that night was great, and the players made me feel like a part of the family right away. I have never questioned my decision.”
    Moon has not only shown he can stay with a receiver, but he does not shy away from contact.
    He had a career high 11 tackles against Ole Miss and followed that up with 10 against UL Lafayette. He also had eight against Western Michigan and seven against Arkansas State.
    But, it’s the air game he expects to be most involved in this week.
    “Their quarterback throws it really well, and they’ve got good receivers,” Moon said. “We’ve got to win this game and then beat Troy at home. It was fun going to the bowl game last year, and we want to do it again this year. We know it’s up to us.”
    Troy suddenly looks vulnerable, too, following Thursday night’s 35-3 beat down by Arkansas State. That win puts the Red Wolves, who beat Appalachian State last week, in the driver’s seat in the SBC race with a 6-0 mark. They are the only unbeaten team in conference play.
    “This is a special group of kids between Josh Moon, Jay Bowdry, Christian Matthews and Jesse Liptrot just in that one class,” Summers said. “I think they’re going to be a special group for a long time here.”