Howard (6-3) at #7 Georgia Southern (7-2) — Paulson Stadium, 2 p.m.
Howard coach Gary Harrell would rather not be playing Georgia Southern at this point in the season, but he said his team will play the hand it has been dealt.
When the game was scheduled the Eagles (7-2) were no doubt looking for a tune-up prior to next week’s game at Georgia.
However, it has become anything but that.
No. 7 Georgia Southern will be looking to rebound following last week’s 31-28 loss to Appalachian State when it meets Howard (6-3, 5-2 MEAC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Paulson Stadium. It will be Homecoming and Senior Day for the Eagles.
Both teams are playing to keep their FCS playoff hopes alive.
Should Georgia Southern, assured of a share of the SoCon title, finish the regular season with losses to the Bison and Georgia it would be 7-4, finishing on a three-game losing streak. Two years ago the Eagles made the 20-team playoff field with a 7-4 record, after winning its last three games of the regular season.
Last year only two seven-win teams made the playoff field.
Harrell, a former Howard standout, is in his second year as head coach, and he has engineered a dramatic turnaround.
Last year the Bison won five games after winning three the previous three seasons. Last Saturday’s 20-10 win over Hampton assured the school of its first winning season since 2004.
With Georgia Southern and Delaware State left to play Harrell has his team thinking playoffs.
“We got another win (Hampton) which means another step in the right direction,” Harrell said. “We want to finish the season strong, and possibly get a bid to the playoffs.
“It’s a tough matchup for us,” Harrell said. “Georgia Southern has one of the most difficult schemes in Division I football. There’s a lot riding on this game.”
Harrell said he would have preferred to play Georgia Southern early in the season, but the opportunity to play the Eagles was too great to pass up.
“This is the type of test you want to get early when they’re not as polished,” Harrell said. “This is a great opportunity for us to go into that atmosphere with a chance to play a team that’s in the playoffs every year. This gives us a chance to see where we are.”
The strength of Howard’s offense is its running game while the Eagle defense is at its best against the run, allowing only 122 yards per game.
The Bison have one of the leading rushers in FCS in Stone Mountain, Ga., product Terrence Lefall who has 779 yards in only six games. He ran for 893 last year.
“They have a very athletic line, maybe the best we’ve faced this year,” Georgia Southern Coach Jeff Monken said. “(Keith) Pough could play at any level, their special teams are good.
“The quarterback (Greg McGhee) is a big lefthanded kid and very athletic,” Monken said. “And the running back (Lefall) is a strong kid who consistently gets 100 yards a game. This is a good, well coached football team.”
Linebacker Keith Pough is a 6-foot-3, 235 pound senior All American who was the MEAC’s pre-season defensive player of the year. He is the son of South Carolina State Coach Buddy Pough, and is projected to be a high NFL draft pick.
McGhee, a sophomore, is considered to be the top quarterback in the conference. Cornerback Julien David leads the MEAC in tackles with 91, and freshman defensive end Damon Gresham-Chisholm of Covington, Ga., has 14 tackles for a loss.
Eagle fullback Dominique Swope is expected to play after missing the last two weeks due to concussion issues. Swope has 729 yards rushing in seven games.
However, Georgia Southern could be without two of its top defensive players.
Defensive tackle Brent Russell is not expected to play after being suspended indefinitely by Monken following his arrest last Sunday morning for disorderly conduct, and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
Linebacker Darius Eubanks, one of the top linebackers in the SoCon, could be idled by a shoulder injury suffered against Appalachian State.
Georgia Southern is 22-2 all-time against teams from the MEAC. This will be its first regular season game against a MEAC team since beating South Carolina State, 28-14, in the 1996 opener.
The Eagles are 8-2 against Florida A&M, 7-0 versus S.C. State, 6-0 versus Bethune-Cookman, and 1-0 versus North Carolina A&T.