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My Take 10/15 - Eagles are making the grade so far
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Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon slips a tackle by Wofford defensive back Kendall Bratcher, lower right, during a second quarter run Saturday.


The No. 3 Georgia Southern Eagles have been improving on a week-to-week basis, and frankly, are a missed field goal (or fumble, or iffy pass interference call, but I digress) away from being 6-0 and No. 1 in the country.

The Sept. 8 loss came against a Citadel team that is just good enough to be able to beat you as long as you make them think they can, and that is just what happened against GSU.

There were a lot of question marks heading into the season, and many have been answered. Everybody knew how good the Eagles could be, so now, with five games left in the regular season, how good are they?




The big storyline entering the 2012 campaign was, "Ezayi Youyoute or Jerick McKinnon?"

The answer was, well, both.

Youyoute started the season as the quarterback, with McKinnon filling roles as a slotback, fullback, backup quarterback, kick returner and even punt rusher, but after some early turnover problems, an ugly win against Elon and an ugly first half against Samford, McKinnon took over.

The result has been one turnover in the last two games, a convincing win over Western Carolina on the road and last Saturday’s huge, 17-9 win over then fifth-ranked and undefeated Wofford.

The passing offense has been nearly nonexistent — the Eagles have completed only 12 passes the entire season — but in a triple-option offense, that may not matter.

McKinnon and Youyoute have also combined for 991 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

With McKinnon at the helm, the turnovers have been cut down, and the production of the offense has gone up.

Plus, Youyoute, the better passer of the two, is still there if the Eagles need him.

The non-existent passing game has been made up for by the dynamic rushing game, and the poor ball control has been nullified by pure athleticism at the quarterback position, balancing out to make the Eagles slightly above average at the QB position.

Grade: B-


Running backs

What can you say?

It all starts with fullback Dominique Swope (116 carries, 662 yards, 10 touchdowns), and when he’s gone over 100 yards, good things have happened.

Slotbacks Darreion Robinson and Johnathan Bryant have been the go-to guys at the position, combining for 49 carries for 365 yards and a TD apiece, and, with Robert Brown (9-104, TD) once again battling injuries, Tray Butler, Brian Wilcher and Devin Scott have proven to be capable backups.

The Eagles are averaging 6.8 yards per carry as a team, and the running backs have accounted for 14 touchdowns.

Blocking can’t be overlooked, and while they’re good at cutting at the perimeter, they’re not great — yet.

Grade: A-

 Offensive Line

            The Eagles lost three big-name offensive linemen to graduation over the offseason, and have had trouble replacing them. In fact, nine different players have been used in any different number of combinations, and the same five have not started a single game.

            The talent is there, but the consistency isn’t, and a running offense can’t turn into a well-oiled machine until that happens.

            With that said, run blocking is the bread and butter, and they’ve been getting the job done on that front.

            Still, the coaches can call all the passing plays they want, but until the quarterbacks have time to throw, those plays will continue to turn into runs and incompletions.

Grade: B-

Wide Receivers

Perhaps that should read, "Wide Blockers."

With only 12 combined receptions on the season, there’s not much to say, other than the catches have been made when they’re on target. Kentrellis Showers leads the way with six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.

The blocking by the group, especially tight end Tyler Sumner and seniors Patrick Barker and Mitch Williford, has been good enough to get the job done.

Grade: B+




Defensive Line

Led by Brent Russell, the GSU defensive line has been the centerpiece of the defense, if not the team.

The Eagles are holding their opponents — including option teams Wofford and The Citadel — to 120 yards per game and only three touchdowns through six games.

Add into the mix a whopping 32 tackles for loss including 17 sacks, and it’s easy to see just how disruptive the defensive line can be.

Grade: A




There’s no question the Eagles are missing out on having Josh Rowe at middle linebacker, but if you didn’t already know he was ineligible for the season, you may not have noticed.

John Stevenson, who in his career has walked onto the team not once, but twice, leads the team with 49 tackles, and Kyle Oehlbeck has been a presence in the middle.

The biggest asset for the linebackers has been speed, which they’ve used to stifle the run, disrupt the quarterback and help out plenty in coverage.

If they’re in position, they’re going to make the play. And they’re improving upon being where they need to be.

Grade: A-




J.J. Wilcox and Valdon Cooper, a converted running back and an Illinois transfer who had never played a down of football at the position in college, have led a secondary that has answered the call after a career-ending injury to Derek Heyden in 2011 and the graduation of cornerback Laron Scott.

The Eagles have picked off seven passes this year, including four by Cooper and Lavelle Westbrooks, and with Wilcox laying wood and Cooper and Westbrooks wrapping up in the open field, the run defense gets help from every position on the field.

Darius Eubanks, with 37 tackles, is playing like the veteran he is expected to be.

The defensive backs are probably the most pleasant surprise to GSU fans this year.

Like the linebackers, when they are aware and in position, there aren’t many plays they can’t make.

Grade: B+



Special Teams

With a season-long, 48-yard field goal against Wofford and perfection on extra points, it looks like the Eagles may have found a place kicker in true freshman Alex Hanks.

They’re still only 5 of 8 on field goals this year, and all three misses were blocked.

Luke Cherry hasn’t been an All-American as a punter, but he gets it inside the 20 when he has the opportunity.

His kickoffs, while better against Wofford, need to stay inbounds. Fortunately, kickoff coverage has been well above average.

The return game has been good, with Wilcox averaging 26 yards per kick return and Robinson tallying 108 yards on punt returns for an 8.8-yard average — a number hurt by the fact that he almost never calls for a fair catch.

All in all, special teams have been nothing if not inconsistent. The Eagles need to focus on avoiding the penalties and eliminating the small mistakes.

Grade: C+



Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.