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GSU not looking ahead to Georgia

Howard (6-3) at
#7 GSU (7-2)

2 p.m., Saturday (Homecoming)
Paulson Stadium

    Every football coach in America worries about the team “looking ahead.”
    Take a look at Georgia Southern – the Eagles have a homecoming game Saturday against Howard, a team that is 1-3 on the road and has losses against South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T.
    The following week, GSU faces Georgia in Athens.
    And UGA is, well, UGA.
    Perhaps the only good thing about last Saturday’s 31-28 loss at home to Appalachian State was that the Eagles, then the No. 1 ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, got a dose of reality.
    It’s a lot easier to avoid a letdown when the playoffs are on the line.
    “(A letdown against Howard) might be a little bit of a concern had we won Saturday and already had an automatic bid to the playoffs, or had already won the outright conference championship,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “Maybe there’d be some concern of guys not taking this game as serious as they need to.”
    Looking for the eighth win and an all-but-assured bid to the playoffs, regardless of how the Southern Conference Championship pans out, got the attention of the Eagles (7-2, 6-2 SoCon) this week.
    “I hope what happened last week placed a tremendous sense of urgency on this game,” added Monken. “I’ve heard nobody talk about the (Georgia) game or anything. Our complete focus is on Howard, and we’ll have to play our best game of the year.”
    That may be a bit easier for the Eagles, who look forward to the return of sophomore fullback Dominique Swope, the team’s leading scorer with 14 rushing touchdowns.
    Swope missed the last two games with a concussion, his second of the year.
    “He’s been practicing this week and went full (contact on Thursday), so hopefully he’s ready,” Monken said.
    Swope was eager to get back on the field, but was impressed with backup William Banks, who rushed for three first-half touchdowns in the loss to ASU.
    “Personally (being sidelined) hurt a little bit, but at the same time, it was good to watch my team go hard for the last two weeks,” Swope said. “(Banks) was trying to carry the team —three touchdowns, 130 yards — you can’t ask for anything more.”
    Safety Darius Eubanks, who injured his shoulder against ASU, is doubtful against Howard but expected to return against UGA.
    Quarterback Ezayi Youyoute walked off the field in crutches against the Mountaineers, with a pair of leg injuries, but will dress against Howard. All week, freshman QB Matt Dobson took snaps with the second string and senior Russell DeMasi took snaps with the third string at practice. Jerick McKinnon will start.
    “The trainers said that he could go as tolerated,” Monken said about Youyoute. “We’re going to dress him out and hopefully get a look at him in pregame, just see what he looks like.”
    Defensive tackle Brent Russell has been suspended from the team since his arrest early Sunday morning for obstruction and disorderly conduct, and Monken has not stated whether or not Russell will play Saturday.
    “In terms of him playing in the game,” Monken said, “that will be my call. He’s been suspended all week.”
    Howard (6-3) comes to the game in a playoff fight of its own. The Bison currently sit in third place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings behind Bethune-Cookman and N.C. Central.
    They are led by defensively by linebacker Keith Pough, who owns the FCS record for career tackles for loss (69.5).
    “Shoot, he might just be the best linebacker in the country at our level,” Monken said. “I think he could play at any level.”
    Offensively, the Bison have a pro look.
    “We’ll see a lot of two-back and two-tight-end formations out of them,” said GSU defensive coordinator Jack Curtis. “That’s what they’ve shown in the past. It’s a little bit more of a pro style. They’re talented up front, they’re big and physical, and it kind of reminds you what North Dakota State did.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.