Just days after an anemic offensive showing in a 34-10 loss to Appalachian State, changes are in store for Georgia Southern.
Following Monday’s practice at Paulson Stadium, Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers announced that coordinator David Dean will assume play calling duties from Rance Gillespie when the Eagles travel to Ole Miss this weekend. The pair have the titles of co-offensive coordinator, but Gillespie had been sending the plays into the huddle.
With the change, the Eagles are hoping to kick-start an offensive unit that has fallen well short of expectations going into the year.
“Coach Dean has been working with our receivers and will now be calling the plays,” Summers said. “There’s no change in position or title for either coach. We’re just switching things around. Coach Gillespie has been working with our quarterbacks throughout the year. With injuries at that position and with a true freshman getting work there, we want him to focus on preparing them.”
Georgia Southern totaled just 159 yards in last week’s loss and had managed just 48 yards at one point midway through the fourth quarter. The Eagles’ struggles have stemmed from a consistent inability to win battles at the line of scrimmage and run the ball effectively.
After leading the nation in rushing in both 2014 and 2015, this year’s squad - despite returning its top two quarterbacks and top three running backs - is averaging more than 100 yards less than last season’s team.
“You have to look up front,” Summers said. “On our line, we have a lot of young guys. That’s not meant to be an excuse, but it’s what we’re working with. Hopefully things start to click and you start to see the explosive plays we know our (skill position players) can give us.”
TOP OF THE CLASS
Troy has long since shaken off the title of a surprise team in the Sun Belt and is now among the favorites to take home the conference championship at the end of the season. The Trojans join Appalachian State as the only Sun Belt squads with 4-0 conference records and have the league’s top overall mark at 6-1.
Following a bye week, Troy is now set to venture outside of Sun Belt play and is a heavy favorite to move to 7-1 as it prepares to host a struggling Massachusetts squad.
“We’re in a weird spot in our schedule where we play two games in a 28-day span,” Troy coach Neal Brown said. “We used this last week to focus on us and how we can get better. We’re in a favorable spot right now, but we still need to improve if we want to achieve our goals.”
Regardless of this weekend’s outcome, all eyes in the Sun Belt will be on Troy next week as Appalachian State comes to town in a game that will give the winner a clear path to a conference championship.
WON’T GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT
While speaking of prospective conference champions, it doesn’t seem right to include a team that sits at just 3-4 on the season.
And yet, here we have the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
The defending league champs couldn’t have had a worse start to their season, dropping a pair of games against non-conference G5 competition, absorbing a beatdown at Auburn and capping it all off with a loss to FCS Central Arkansas. But - in a fitting Halloween theme - the Red Wolves have risen from the dead, much like they did after last season’s 0-4 non-conference campaign.
Wins over Georgia Southern, South Alabama and UL Monroe have once again put the Red Wolves in control of their own destiny.
“I thought that last week was maybe our most complete game of the season,” ASU coach Blake Anderson said. “We’ve continued to make progress and we’ve given ourselves a chance to be where we want to be at the end of the year. Now we need to continue to grow.”
Arkansas State will be tested with a road game with limited preparation time this week as it heads to Atlanta for a Thursday night game against Georgia State. Like the Red Wolves, the Panthers are also following a similar script to last year - although that might not be what they wanted to see.
Georgia State caught fire in the final weeks of 2015, winning its final four regular season games to qualify for the first bowl game in program history. Thanks to a somewhat surprising 13-10 loss at South Alabama last week, the Panthers will need to repeat that feat if they want to make a second consecutive bowl game.
One of this week’s more interesting Sun Belt games will take place in Lafayette, La.
Unfortunately for UL Lafayette, this isn’t because of a resurgence in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ status as conference front runners. Instead, ULL will host Idaho in a battle of teams who are struggling to reach bowl eligibility.
The Cajuns have taken baby steps towards improvement after last year’s disastrous 4-8 mark. Meanwhile, the Vandals - who announced a move back to the FCS ranks earlier this year - are rallying hard to try and make what could be a final bowl game for the foreseeable future.
Idaho could very well finish as one of the hotter teams in the country if it continues to improve. The Vandals have won two of their last three games and all of their final four opponents currently sport losing records.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.