It’s only the third game of the season for Georgia Southern, but Coach Jeff Monken didn’t hesitate when asked about the importance of his team’s game with Elon.
“It’s the most important game in the world to us,” Monken said. “It’s a game we have to win.”
The No. 11 Eagles (1-1, 0-1) and the unranked Phoenix (2-1, 0-0) meet in a Southern Conference game at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
Georgia Southern will be playing for the first time since opening defense of their SoCon championship by losing to The Citadel, 23-21, two weeks ago in Charleston, S.C.
The Eagles missed a potentially winning field goal on the final play of the game as Ryan Nowicki’s kick was wide left. Nowicki also had a field goal attempt blocked earlier.
Monken said freshman Alex Hanks would handle the placekicking and field goal chores. He also said linebacker Kyle Oehlback and backup fullback Seon Jones would be in uniform after serving two game suspensions for violation of team rules. Oehlback will start at middle linebacker.
Last weekend the Bulldogs showed their win was not necessarily a fluke as they ripped Appalachian State, 52-28, in Boone, N.C., piling up 615 yards total offense, 463 on the ground. It marked the first time since Georgia Southern joined the SoCon in 1992 a team had beaten the two league powers on consecutive weekends.
While Elon is still a bit of an unknown after three games — it lost to North Carolina, 62-0, in its opener and followed with wins over MEAC weakling North Carolina Central and Division II West Virginia State —Monken said the Phoenix is a good team.
“They’ve got a great receiver in (Aaron) Mellette,” Monken said, “and a heckuva quarterback (Thomas Wilson) who gets the ball to a lot of different people.”
Mellette is one of the top receivers in FCS. He was named a first-team All American last year when he had 113 catches for 1,639 yards. So far this season, Mellette has 15 receptions for 178 yards.
Wilson has completed 44-of-70 passes for 538 yards, after completing 279-of-411 attemps last year for 3,057 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Monken said. “You can’t focus just on Mellette. Their defense is good, too. Last year they played a lot of inexperienced guys.”
The Phoenix was 5-6 a year ago under first-year coach Jayson Swepson who replaced the highly successful Pete Lembo who left for Ball State.
Swepson missed last week’s win over West Virginia State as he was hospitalized in Raleigh, N.C., with chest pains. He was discharged from the hospital on Monday, and rejoined his team on Wednesday. He is expected to be at the game, but will coach from the press box.
Offensive coordinator Chris Pincince filled in for Swepson in the weekly SoCon coaches teleconference, and said he was impressed with the Eagles.
“This is the biggest, fastest team we’ll see all season,” Pincince said, presumably leaving the FBS Tar Heels out of the equation. “Defensively the kids up front are the strength of their team.
“They’ve got a lot of kids who have played a lot of games,” Pincince said. “It’s going to be hard for us. Number six (Dominique Swope) is a dynamic player.
“I don’t spend a lot of time watching (the opponent’s) offense, but you watch him.”
Swope, the Eagles’ sophomore fullback, is third in the conference in rushing at 116.5 yards per game. Quarterback Ezayi Youyoute is second at 132.5, trailing Wofford’s Eric Brietenstein (138 ypg).
Georgia Southern is third in total offense, averaging 460.5 yards per game, while it leads the conference in total defense at 215 yards per game. Elon is last in total offense (323.3), but third in defense (295).
“Each week has been a different challenge,” Pincince said. “We were overmatched at North Carolina, In Week Two we pulled the dogs off at the half because we were concerned about injuries, and last week the kids were in shock about Coach Swepson.”