Central Arkansas (9-2) at #5 GSU (8-3)
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
Jerick McKinnon wasn't aware that Central Arkansas, Georgia Southern's matchup in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Saturday, is one of the few teams with a winning record in Paulson Stadium.
The Bears have only visited once, but they won the season finale in the worst season in GSU history — the 3-8 campaign in 2006.
"Oh, wow. I did not know that. I did not know that," the GSU quarterback said. "That's kind of shocking actually. What was the score of that game?"
The Bears won in overtime, 34-31, during a season in which they were transitioning from Division II to the FCS, to leave with a 1-0 record in Paulson.
"Oh, dang," McKinnon added.
Not that the fifth-seeded Eagles (8-3) need any extra motivation heading into the 2012 playoffs. They've come close to the division's top prize each of the last two seasons, losing to Delaware in the 2010 playoffs and North Dakot State in 2011, each time in the semifinals.
"The prize is bigger than the regular season," McKinnon said. "We're playing for a national championship, and it doesn't get any bigger than that."
The Bears (9-2) are one of only three teams the Eagles will face this season that doesn’t regularly face their spread-option running game.
The other two —Jacksonville and Howard — lost to GSU by a combined 127-26.
Everybody in the Southern Conference faces the Eagles, The Citadel and Wofford every year — all option teams — and Georgia, GSU’s final regular-season opponent, has seen it every year since 2008 against Georgia Tech.
The big numbers the Eagles put up against teams unfamiliar with their offense are impressive, but Jacksonville and Howard were far from playoff teams.
Central Arkansas has lost this season only to Ole Miss and Stephen F. Austin, and beat 2011 national runner up Sam Houston State on the way to the 2012 Southland Conference title.
While the Eagles don’t know how the Bears will elect to defend the option, they’re sure they’ve seen it before.
"There's not a defense that we haven't seen that I think they'll line up in,” GSU head coach Jeff Monken said. “It will be something we've seen in the past, but it may not be something we worked on this week. We may need to get together on the sideline after the first series and draw something up."
As for the GSU defense, the strength all year has been stopping the run. That will still be the focus against the balanced attack of Central Arkansas.
"We're going to stop the run and try to get them into long third-down situations, them we can take our shots at that time,” GSU defensive coordinator Jack Curtis said. “We haven’t done a good job these last few weeks of getting off the field on third down.”
The Eagles gave up 10 of 14 third down conversions against UGA in the regular-season finale.
Kickoff for the Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m.
The Eagles are 16-2 all time in first-round playoff games, and 32-3 in playoff games in Paulson Stadium.
The Bears won their first-ever playoff game in 2011 before falling in the second round to Montana, 41-14.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.