Third-ranked Georgia Southern is currently in control of the Southern Conference title.
The key to the early success? Defense.
The Eagles (5-1, 4-1 SoCon) are giving up only 14 points per contest, down nearly 10 points from the 23.6 average allowed per game in 2011.
The defense was perhaps at its best Saturday, when the Eagles shut down Wofford (5-1, 3-1), 17-9, after the Terriers came into Paulson Stadium with the top rushing and scoring offense in the nation.
"We had our chances and just didn’t get it done," said Wofford coach Mike Ayers, whose Terriers dropped three spots to No. 8. "A lot of credit goes to Georgia Southern. I thought they had a nice gameplan, and made it difficult on us, but we still had our shots and just didn’t get it done. The big thing for us now is to put that to bed and get on with the next one."
Ayers chuckled about the next one, which is another road trip — this time to Boone, N.C. to face No. 13 Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1) — where things won’t get any easier.
"It’s another challenge," said Ayers. "It’s more difficult than the last one, and we’re going to have to be a lot better than we were last week if we’re going to have a chance."
The Eagles travel to Greenville, S.C., on Saturday, to face Furman at 1:30 p.m.
Last Saturday, the Paladins (2-5, 1-3) lost big at home, when Chattanooga left with a 31-10 victory. Furman fared much better the previous week against the first option team on its schedule, hanging with Wofford on the road in a 20-17 final.
Having already faced the option once this year, Paladins coach Bruce Fowler has some optimism about the upcoming game with GSU.
"I think the biggest thing is, the first time, the overall speed of it is hard to rehearse and get used to in practice. Many of the guys on our defense have played against Wofford and Georgia Southern for several years. There’s a little bit of an advantage as far as having seen it once, from a speed standpoint," Fowler said.
Despite the lopsided series — the Eagles have a record of 15-8 all-time against Furman including a 50-20 win in 2011 at Paulson Stadium — the fact that the teams split national championships in 1985 and 1988 will never go away.
"The rivalry between Georgia Southern and Furman runs deeper than any other rivalry we have at our school," GSU coach Jeff Monken said.
Better luck this time
The first time Appalachian State faced the option in 2012, it suffered an embarrassing, 52-28 loss to The Citadel.
The Mountaineers will find out Saturday at home against Wofford whether or not they learned anything against the Bulldogs.
"I hope we did," said ASU coach Jerry Moore, "obviously."
Moore compares facing the option to playing chess, knowing that there’s an answer to any defensive alignment.
"We call it an answer sheet," Moore said, "and they’ve got an answer sheet."
It doesn’t help that the Terriers held Georgia Southern’s high-powered rushing offense to only 17 points last Saturday.
"You get caught up talking about their offense," Moore said about Wofford, "but their defense is as good as it gets."
: Appalachian State came from behind last Saturday to defeat Samford (5-2, 3-2), 28-25. Samford will face Chattanooga (3-3, 2-1) Saturday on the road at 6 p.m. … There will only be one team without a SoCon win after Saturday, when Elon (2-4, 0-3) plays host to Western Carolina (1-6, 0-5) at 3 p.m. … The Citadel is idle on Saturday. The Bulldogs return to action Saturday, Oct. 27 when they face Wofford at 1:30 p.m., in Spartanburg, S.C.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.