Wofford head coach Mike Ayers on Tuesday said he is concerned about how injuries will affect his football team’s ability to prepare to play Georgia Southern for the Southern Conference championship Saturday.
Ayers said several of his players sustained injuries in Wofford’s 42-24 victory over Western Carolina last week. The No. 9 Terriers (7-2, 5-1) will play No. 4 GSU (8-1, 6-1) at 1 p.m. at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C.
“Probably the worst thing about the game was the number of injuries that we had,” Ayers said. “We had several kids sustain injuries up there (at Cullowhee, N.C.). Hopefully, the majority of them will be ready for the game, but the problem is they’re not going to be able to prepare for the game. It’s one of those things that’s a catch-22 deal. We’ll do everything we can do as far as meeting them down there on the field and taking mental reps and stuff like that.
“When you go against a team like Georgia Southern, with the option concepts that they have, you’ve got to be really, really good. You’ve got to understand who’s got which phase of the option, and we’re going to do our best this week to try to get ready for it. Very tough game. Very physical opponent. When you look at them on film, from opening day until this past week, they’re going to play and play hard. Really, a big game. There’s a lot at stake. There’s a lot on the line. We know it and they know it. We’re hoping that we play a great game.”
GSU lost, 33-31, to Wofford last season but beat the Terriers, 23-20, in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“In the past, we’ve been a football team that, quite frankly, when we played Georgia Southern, we may not have played up to our best,” Ayers said. “We were very sloppy with the ball, turning the ball over, and I’m sure that was part of the problem for Georgia Southern last week with the turnovers that they had against The Citadel.
“The Citadel gave a great effort. Almost beat them. But we can’t expect them to be as favorable with putting the ball on the ground. We’ve got to expect that they’re going to execute with zero mistakes.”
GSU escaped Paulson Stadium with a 14-12 victory over The Citadel last week. The Eagles fumbled five times, losing the ball twice, and threw an interception. GSU managed 191 yards rushing compared to The Citadel’s 239 yards rushing. Both teams run the triple-option offense.
Wofford, which also runs the triple-option, ran for a season-high 500 yards against Western Carolina. Ayers said he believes GSU will benefit from having faced The Citadel’s triple-option last week.
“They have really good players,” Ayers said of GSU. “They’re really physical within the tackle box. Their third-level players and second-level players can really run. It is very difficult to block really good athletes, and a big problem that we’ve had, quite frankly, this year is being able to block on the perimeter.
“They have skill kids that do an excellent job as far as blocking on the perimeter. (GSU head coach) Jeff (Monken) and his staff do a great job as far as the schemes that they use. It’s going to be a battle of guys who are going to make the most plays will probably end up winning the game.
“If you get into a game like I expect we’re going to have then every time that you have the football, you better be productive because the number of times that you’re going to have it are going to be limited. There are times that we’ve taken the football and we’ve had the football for over 10 minutes. I’m sure that they’ve had the exact same thing happen to them. The difference between them and us is probably they’re more explosive in some phases of the game because of the personnel that they have.”
Ayers said Wofford can’t afford to underestimate GSU’s passing game. He pointed to the Eagles’ 129 yards passing against The Citadel as proof.
“When you run the ball as effectively as they do, you’re always going to have that dilemma,” Ayers said. “It’s imperative that the back-end people do a great job of reading their keys, understanding what the read-progression may be.
“There’s sometimes, quite frankly, that they’re running the football so well that they know you’re trying to cheat them with a particular coverage, or your corners are not really playing as pass-oriented as they should be, and all of a sudden you get those combination moves, whether it be a post and a wheel or a go route with a follow route behind it, crossing routes, all those things.
“Their throwing game, the best thing that they have is the quarterback. Jaybo (Shaw), he does an excellent job. When he has to throw it, he’s putting the ball on the money.”
After not being ranked last week in The Sports Network/Fathead.com poll, Furman (6-3, 5-2) moved up to No. 17 following it 20-10 victory over Appalachian State (6-3, 4-2). The Mountaineers dropped from No. 3 to No. 10.
“Obviously, it was a good win for us,” said Furman head coach Bruce Fowler, whose Paladins will play host to Elon (4-5, 2-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday. “It was a win that we needed against a very good team that we have a tremendous amount of respect for in Appalachian State.”
Furman lost, 50-20, to GSU on Oct. 15. The Paladins beat Wofford, 26-21, on Oct. 22.
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.