Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken said he hopes his football players will benefit from the playoff experience they gained during their run to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals last season.
GSU (9-2) will play upstart Old Dominion (10-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Last season, Monken’s first as GSU’s coach, the Eagles advanced to the semifinals before losing, 27-10, to host Delaware.
“They’re, hopefully, a little more confident going into these playoffs, and knowing what it’s all about, at least having had experienced it,” Monken said. “We didn’t have anybody on our football team last year when we went into the playoffs who had ever experienced a playoff game. So that was different for them. Now, having been through it last season, this isn’t their first go-around, at least for the veterans. Hopefully, that will help them.
“We were just so glad to be in the playoffs (last season), and we felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to be there, that our guys were just playing for an opportunity to play together one more time, just play another Saturday together.”
Old Dominion, which played its first season in 2009 after a 69-year hiatus, advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time this season as an at-large entry out of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Monarchs, of Norfolk, Va., beat Norfolk State, 35-18, in the first round Saturday.
GSU, the Southern Conference champion, secured an automatic bid to the 20-team tournament. The third-seeded Eagles also earned a first-round bye. They have not played since Nov. 19, when they lost, 45-21, at Alabama.
“We’re really a very similar team to what we were a year ago, and just a group that really tries to work hard and play hard and do the best that we can,” Monken said. “We don’t claim to be more talented or bigger or faster or more athletic than anybody else. We’ve certainly faced a lot of teams already in the two years that we’ve played here together that have been bigger and faster and more athletic.
“We just try to play as good as we can together as a team and just keep pushing week by week. We try not to really get too much into with the guys that, ‘Hey, we’re a better team’ or ‘We’re more talented than them’ or ‘Gosh, they’re so much more faster and bigger and talented than us.’ We just, each week, try to be the best team, and the best team that we can be, and our kids have done a good job with that.”
Using its triple-option attack, GSU is second in the nation in rushing yards behind Wofford (356 per game). The Southern Conference champion Eagles average 319.7 yards rushing per game. The 21 points GSU scored against Alabama remain the most points the Crimson Tide have allowed this season.
Old Dominion, like Alabama and other teams that rarely face the triple-option, is expected to struggle against GSU’s offense. The Monarchs are ranked 16th in the nation in defending the run. They give up 115.9 yards per game.
Monken, however, isn’t overlooking Old Dominion or its rapid rise to prominence.
“What a great job Coach (Bobby) Wilder and his staff have done to get that program going and to be in the national picture so quickly,” Monken said. “It’s really just a testament to their hard work and a great job of recruiting. They’ve got talented players. I’m very impressed by their football team. They’re well-coached. They’re a big team. And an outstanding football team.
“To win nine games in a league like the CAA, they’ve certainly done a great job. And they have for the last three years. It’s not like they just all of a sudden happened to have a good team this year. They’ve had a good team. They started out winning and have continued to do so, and they’ve just gotten better.”
GSU should benefit from not having played since Nov. 19, but Monken said he hopes the Eagles did not get rusty as a result of the extra time off.
“We had a couple of weeks to rest and not have to get geared up and get in that game mode,” Monken said. “We had an emotional loss at App. We come back and had to fight tooth and nail to beat The Citadel, and that’s draining. We put a lot into the Wofford game, which was for the conference championship. And then you go and play Alabama, which is one of the best teams in college football, and get beat. It’s not easy. It’s not an easy stretch.
“To not have to get geared up like that, because the playoffs are a do-or-die situation, was good for our guys to just get some mental and emotional rest.
"The disadvantage is you don’t play (because of a bye). And there’s a little something to being on a roll and kind of getting that confidence of the first win in the playoffs. I liken that to our first-round game last year. We won, and we had won the last three regular-season games, won that game and we were kind of on a roll, and the kids were just able to keep it going. That may be a disadvantage for us.”