#6 (FCS) GSU (8-2) at #5 (FBS) Georgia (9-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
ATHENS — There’s a popular t-shirt with the slogan, “If you can’t run with the big dogs stay on the porch.”
Georgia Southern President Brooks Keel announced last August he wanted the Eagles to run with the big dogs, i.e., Keel wants to see the football program move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
The Eagles (8-2) have won a record six national championships at the Football Championship Subdivision level, and are a perennial playoff team. This year Georgia Southern this year won its 10th Southern Conference championship albeit one shared with Appalachian State and Wofford.
The last two years, coach Jeff Monken’s team has been the only team to reach the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, and is expected to receive its 19th playoff bid this Sunday when the NCAA announces the 20-team playoff field.
However, before learning its playoff fate the Eagles are going to get off the porch for the second straight year to see if they can, indeed, run with the big dogs.
Last year Georgia Southern lost to eventual national champion Alabama, 45-21, in a game in which the Eagles shredded the vaunted Tide defense for 302 rushing yards.
Alabama was giving up 51.9 rushing yards per game, and the Eagles stayed within 10 points for 42 minutes. Starting quarterback A.J. McCarron threw a touchdown pass for the Tide with 44 seconds left to expand the lead.
This year the big dog on the playground is No. 5 Georgia who the Eagles will meet at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised in the Atlanta area by WSB.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two schools and the Bulldogs have won all four by double digits.
However, the No. 6 Eagles are undaunted by the task facing them. They’ll roll into Sanford respectful, but not fearful.
“It’s a great opportunity for our program,” Monken said. “We’re playing a program that will give us an opportunity to showcase our program.
“Georgia is a great team, and they’re well coached. We’re going to go play, and it’s certainly our intention to win.”
Unlike his players, Monken knows what it’s like to taste victory against Georgia, and in one of college football’s best known venues.
In 2008, Monken’s first year as an assistant on Coach Paul Johnson’s staff at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets rode their triple option offense to a stunning 45-42 win over the Bulldogs in Athens.
Monken is hoping the triple option will be the great equalizer for his team. An offense rarely seen by most top flight programs, it is one difficult to prepare for in one week
Georgia, for example, sees it only once a year and that is when it plays Georgia Tech.
In a bit of scheduling irony Georgia will see it on back-to-back weeks this season. After facing the Eagles, the Bulldogs will meet the Yellow Jackets.
In a sense it will be like playing a tuneup game against the junior varsity (Georgia Southern) to get ready for the varsity (Georgia Tech).
Georgia Southern, of course, is hoping to make it more than an exhibition game for the heavily favored Bulldogs who have secured a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game as East Division champions.
Monken accepts and acknowledges his team is not expected to win, but he’s not going to discount its chances.
“It’s a matter of being prepared and executing,” Monken said. “If you do that then anything can happen.”
There’s no question the Eagles will be prepared. Monken and his staff’s attention to detail are unequaled.
Execution is another matter.
Georgia Southern leads the FCS in rushing at 401.6 yards per game, and is averaging 37.6 points per game. However, the Eagles are also minus three in turnover margin
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray could enjoy a field day against a Georgia Southern secondary that has had its problems this year.
The Eagles are allowing 182 yards per game, and has given up 645 yards in its last two games against Appalachian State (386) and Howard (259).
While quarterback Jerick McKinnon and fullback Dominique Swope offer a solid one-two punch in the running game Georgia Southern is not much of a passing threat.
Kentrellis Showers has caught eight passes for 102 yards while Zach Walker has seven catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns.