Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken got the chance Tuesday morning to do something no GSU coach has done in almost five years — hop on the phone for a postseason Southern Conference press conference.
He began by talking about how much of a dogfight the regular season has been.
"The thing I’m most proud of is the way our kids have battled," Monken said. "And we’ve been in some battles all year. We haven’t had many games where I feel like, ‘Oh this one’s in the bag and we can just empty the bench here, let some other guys play.’ We’ve really had to fight, claw and scratch through. We’ve had guys hurt who have played through injuries. We’ve fought through that and personal adversity."
Monken feels like beating the No. 1 team in the country in the final home game of the regular season put the Eagles on the radar of the NCAA selection committee, but it was they way they went on the road for two weeks and finished on a three-game winning streak that sealed the deal.
"Going into Sunday," he said, "I really liked our chances. I certainly didn’t know for sure, and our kids were really thrilled to see our name come up on the screen on ESPN on Sunday morning. We were happy for our kids — the tradition here and the legacy of post-season play here at Georgia Southern — our kids desperately wanted to be a part of that."
The Eagles (7-4) will host South Carolina State (9-2) Saturday at 2 p.m. at Paulson Stadium.
"Maybe the biggest team we’ve faced all year," Monken said about the Bulldogs. "Their offensive line is huge, and they’ve got two big running backs. We’re debating on which one is the better player. They’ve got a big quarterback who has a great release, they’ve got two outstanding receivers, a great tight end who we think looks like an NFL prospect and a fast defense.
"I don’t know if we’re even close to being as fast as they are collectively as a football team."
The GSU coaching staff has exchanged game tape with SCSU, and Monken got a little extra insight from the coaching staff at Georgia Tech, where he coached from 2008-09 under Paul Johnson.
The Jackets opened the season at home against the Bulldogs.
"My relationship with the coaches there gave us an opportunity to talk to them about personnel," Monken said. "Though it was a long time ago in the season, they certainly remember South Carolina State, how athletic they were and how fast they were, at linebacker particularly, compared to other people they played."
Monken talked about the injuries suffered by the Eagles mid-season, and how they’ve been able to get through the situation.
"We’ve got a lot of kids healthy that weren’t four weeks ago including our quarterback. I don’t know if I’d call him healthy, he’s just slugged his way through the last couple of weeks, banged up and hurt," Monken said. "We’re injured at a lot of positions right now, but not so badly that we can’t get them in a ballgame.
"We’ve got more guys ready for gameday than we’ve had for several weeks in the middle of the season."
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.