Citadel (2-4, 2-2) at Ga. Southern (3-2, 1-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Georgia Southern is coming off its worst defensive performance in the Jeff Monken era in terms of yards allowed, and points given up to a Southern Conference opponent following last Saturday’s 44-34 loss at Samford.
Edwin Jackson, one of the Eagle defenders who had a good day against the Bulldogs, believes the Georgia Southern defense can reverse its fortunes against another set of Bulldogs.
“We’ve got to learn from our mistakes, and get back to fundamentals,” the GSU linebacker said. “We’ve got to give great effort, communicate better on defense, and get in the film room and study."
Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin threw for a school record 495 yards, the second most ever allowed by Georgia Southern, while completing 23 of 42 attempts. Samford finished with 651 yards.
On the surface those numbers point to a disastrous performance by the Eagle defense, and in several ways it was, especially when defenders, by Monken’s count, missed 21 tackles.
If you choose to take the glass is half full route it could be argued the defense played better than it appears. Samford had 334 yards on five plays, which means the Dogs had 317 yards on 66 plays which is only 10 yards more than what Georgia Southern was averaging giving up going into the game.
Eliminate the big plays, and turnovers on consecutive possessions to start the third quarter, and it could have been a different outcome.
Unfortunately big plays and turnovers can’t be taken out of the equation. What is left for the Eagles (3-2, 1-2) is to draw on every positive to be found and go from there as they meet The Citadel (2-4, 2-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Paulson Stadium on Military Appreciation Day.
“We’ve got to come out focused,” Jackson said. “There’s no game we’re going to play this year that’s more important than this one.”
Jackson, a 5-foot-11 225-pound junior, came to Georgia Southern as a walk-on out of Westlake High School. He spent his first two years playing special teams, and was also a backup linebacker last year.
Against Samford he tied for a team high with five tackles, and had a sack, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery. He was Georgia Southern’s nominee for conference defensive player of the week.
The Eagle defense is still seeking to establish an identity, and develop a group of leaders to replace the likes of Brent Russell, John Stevenson, J.J. Wilcox and Darious Eubanks. The talent loss is obvious — all four players made NFL camps, and Wilcox is a member of the Dallas Cowboys — but they were all strong leaders.
“I’m a team guy,” Jackson said. “I want to be a leader, but I’m not there yet. Coming as a walk-on I worry about how they (teammates) see me.
“The guys ahead of me were great leaders,” Jackson said. “I played with five guys who were great leaders: J.J., Brent, John Stevenson, and Darious Eubanks, and Jaybo Shaw. Jaybo, especially, was unbelievable. They all were.”
Jackson leads the Eagles in tackles with 37, and he said he has tried to draw qualities from each of those players.
“Jaybo was selfless, a total team player” Jackson said. “He showed me what toughness was about. The way he got hit, and came back. He studied, and then studied some more. I was blessed to have him as a leader.
“John Stevenson had followed the game path I did, coming as a walk-on,” Jackson said. “He was a hard worker, and he showed me if you wanted it you had to go and get it. Eubanks was more visual. He didn’t say much, but led by his actions, and Russell was very, very aggressive.
“J.J. was unbelievably tenacious, and very vocal when he stepped on the field. I was fortunate and blessed to be around guys like that my first two years.”
Defensive coordinator Jack Curtis and Monken both said they thought Jackson played well at Samford.
“Edwin played a really good football game,” Curtis said. “That second quarter we made some plays, and he had the quarterback rattled before the half.
“He plays fast and hard, and his play was what we expected of him,” Curtis said. “We lost some good players, but we’ve got some good ones. Edwin’s a good one. We’ve just got to be mentally tougher, and that comes with maturity.”