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My Take 12/13 - Penalties holding the Eagles back


One of our readers, a Georgia Southern fan, called me Sunday morning and left a message on my voicemail.

He wanted to know what day and time GSU’s football team will play North Dakota State in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals in Fargo, N.D.

I called him back and told him the Eagles will play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Fargodome. We talked for a minutes and I enjoyed our conversation. He made me laugh when he said, "I think Georgia Southern’s coaches should round up the players who were responsible for our 12 penalties and make them take a Greyhound bus to Fargo. They shouldn’t be allowed to fly with the rest of the team. That would send a message, don’t you think?"

GSU committed 12 penalties for 93 yards in a 35-23 victory over Maine in the FCS quarterfinals Saturday at Paulson Stadium. It was the Eagles’ second-most penalties and second-most penalty yards this season, eclipsed only by GSU’s 13 penalties for 120 yards in a 52-20 victory over Western Carolina on Sept. 24.

GSU’s defense was penalized one time for being offside. Special teams was penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct and a personal foul. And the Eagles’ offense was flagged nine times for false start (five times), illegal shift (twice), illegal block and unsportsmanlike conduct.

It’s approximately 1,555 miles from Statesboro to Fargo, N.D., so it’s fortunate for the GSU players who committed the penalties that they won’t be riding a Greyhound and instead will be flying with their teammates.

But the caller’s suggestion illustrated to me just how important GSU’s quest for a national championship is to Eagle Nation. GSU has won six national championships, but the Eagles have not hoisted the trophy since 2000.

This season is precious to GSU fans. Everyone in Statesboro, it seems, is a stakeholder. And at least one caller was agitated by penalties that, although they did not cost GSU a victory, must be corrected. When the stakes are this high, there is no margin for error.

"We had, I think, six procedure penalties and that’s really troubling," GSU head coach Jeff Monken said Saturday after the Eagles’ victory. "It’s one of the things we talk about as a group. These guys could probably rattle them all off to you. It’s one on a list of silly penalties. We try to eliminate those. They stop drives and they keep points off the board. That’s not been a problem for us, but it was today. That is something we can correct, and that’s the good news."

The bad news is that GSU’s 12 penalties came on the heels of the Eagles’ seven penalties for 64 yards against Old Dominion in GSU’s 55-48 victory in the second round of the playoffs.

The good news is that Monken is correct. The Eagles’ mistakes can be corrected. GSU did not commit any penalties in its 31-10 victory over Wofford to win the Southern Conference championship.

Perhaps not all of GSU’s penalties are the Eagles’ fault. Take into consideration that the officials for the Old Dominion game were from the Missouri Valley Conference, and the officials for the Maine game were from the Ohio Valley Conference. Neither of those crews was familiar with GSU’s style of play going into those games.

As troubling as GSU’s penalties were, the Eagles did a better job of keeping the football against Maine than they did against Old Dominion. The Eagles fumbled six times, losing the ball twice, against Old Dominion. GSU fumbled one time and lost the ball against Maine.

"We did a better job of taking care of the ball," Monken said. "The ones that really are troubling are the ones where you just flat get it knocked out of your hands. … When we’re exchanging the ball from one guy to the next so many times, sometimes it gets dropped. We’re never satisfied unless it never hits the ground. Our guys know that.

"But our guys did a really good job of taking care of the football. We had a couple last week that got knocked out and this week we didn’t have that issue."

I have no doubt that Monken and his assistants will stress eliminating penalties and protecting the football during practices this week. It will be interesting to see how GSU responds against North Dakota State.

A bus ride from Fargo back to Statesboro is an awfully long trip.


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.