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Playing for Pride in Paulson
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Georgia Southern defensive players Jason Earwood (52) and Ronald Wiggins celebrate after a big play against Appalachian State on Oct. 21 in Paulson Stadium. With their playoff aspirations eliminated, the Eagles will be playing for pride today, hoping to help avoid the program’s second losing season in the modern era. - photo by MICHELLE BOAEN/staff
This is the time of year when Georgia Southern is accustomed to fighting for a Southern Conference championship and jockeying for seeding in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
    But that was then, and this is now.
    Having dropped five of their first eight games in the midst of a complete overhaul, the 2006 Eagles enter today’s game with Wofford in unfamiliar territory - a land where talk of next season is surfacing in early November.
    With the postseason no longer a possibility, the Eagles (3-5, 2-3) now have new goals such as winning their three remaining games in order to avoid just the second losing season in the modern era of GSU football.
    “We’ve had to redefine our season in the last couple of weeks as we talked about controlling your destiny, no longer controlling your destiny and then really being out of it, so to speak,” first-year Eagle coach Brian VanGorder said.
    The team’s seniors have their own agenda, especially against a Wofford (4-4, 3-2) team that has owned GSU lately.
    “We play for pride,” senior linebacker Jason Earwood said. “Wofford’s beat us three out of the last four years, and we don’t want to say that about anybody, it doesn’t matter what we are playing for. They are coming into our house and we just want to have a huge win this weekend.”
    Though senior receiver Darius Smiley won’t be around in 2008, he said he’s playing for the future.
    “Just for the seniors, we want to finish out strong and also give the younger guys something to look forward to for next year,” Smiley said. “They don’t want to come back with a losing record. We at least need to win the last three games so they can have something to motivate them going into next year.”
Georgia Southern’s defense has spent the week preparing for Wofford’s dangerous option attack, which is similar to the offense the Eagles’ abandoned this year. The Terriers lead the league in rushing with nearly 248 yards a game.
    “They have a little different flavor to what Georgia Southern did, but it’s real similar,” Earwood said. “What they are about is establishing the run, time of possession and keeping the ball out of our offense’s hands.”
Defending Wofford’s option boils down to sticking to assignments.
    “It’s really simple, we didn’t really put a lot of defense into it,” Earwood said. “It’s just one call, read your keys, play hard and play fast.”
    The Terriers’ wingbone set is just part of what makes Wofford stand out from the other teams in the conference. The visitors also have an unusual defensive scheme.
    “They run a cover-two scheme, which is something different that we haven’t been used to seeing,” said Smiley, adding that practice has been more focused this week.
    VanGorder agreed, saying that he hasn’t had trouble gaining the team’s attention during workouts.
    Wofford coach Mike Ayers knows knocking off Georgia Southern at Paulson Stadium won’t be easy. But the Terriers have accomplished that feat before, handing the Eagles a 14-7 home loss in 2002.    
    “We are doing everything we can do to try to come up with a game plan and see if we can score some points and (find) a way to stop them,” Ayers said. “They are not the same Georgia Southern from a schematic standpoint, but from an (athletic) standpoint, they are Georgia Southern of the old. Plus they’ve added some guys that add to the mix and are outstanding players.”